United States District Court, District of Columbia
S. CHUTKAN United States District Judge
Monte Miller seeks reversal of an October 26, 2012 decision
by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denying him
Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI") and
disability insurance ("DI"). This action was
assigned to Magistrate Judge Kay for full case management,
and after reviewing Plaintiffs motion for judgment of
reversal, Defendant's motion for judgment of affirmance,
and Plaintiffs reply, Judge Kay issued a Report and
Recommendation ("Report"), recommending that the
court deny Plaintiffs motion and grant Defendant's
motion. Plaintiff timely objected to the Report. Upon
consideration of the record in this case, the Report, and the
objections and responses thereto, the court hereby adopts the
Magistrate Judge's Report, and further accepts Judge
first applied for SSI and DI on May 26, 2010, alleging that
he became disabled beginning on May 7, 2010. (Administrative
Record ("AR") 136, 144). Both of these applications
were denied. (Id. 53, 57). Plaintiff, acting pro
se, then requested reconsideration without submitting
any additional evidence, and was denied upon reconsideration
on April 8, 2011. (Id. 60, 63). Plaintiff then
obtained counsel and requested a hearing before an ALJ, which
took place on October 22, 2012. (Id. 22-40 [Hearing
Transcript]). The ALJ issued a decision on October 26, 2012,
finding Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. (Id. 11-18). Plaintiff appealed
to the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review
of the unfavorable decision on January 9, 2014. (Id.
1). Plaintiff filed his complaint in District Court on March
argued that the ALJ erred by not assigning enough weight to
evidence from his treating physician, Dr. Kamara, regarding
his limitations. (Mot. for Judgment of Reversal at 3, ECF No.
11; AR 15). The ALJ discounted Dr. Kamara's August 17,
2012 opinion about Plaintiffs condition, on the grounds that
Dr. Kamara had not evaluated Plaintiff in person since June
2010. But Plaintiff contended that the ALJ's
understanding was incorrect because Dr. Kamara had been
"following [Plaintiff] for almost two years." (Mot.
for Judgment of Reversal at 3-4). Plaintiff also argued that
the ALJ erred by misinterpreting Plaintiffs
"aspirational" statement about how much weight he
could lift as a "definitive assertion."
(Id. at 6).
Kay examined Plaintiffs "medical records spanning from
August 2008 to August 2012, " along with his testimony
from the October 22 hearing, and found that the record
contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's
finding, and that the ALJ did not err in his consideration of
the treating physician's opinion nor in finding
Plaintiffs testimony about his limitations "not entirely
credible." (Report at 23, ECF No. 15). Judge Kay
explained that the record contained no medical records from
Dr. Kamara later than June 2010, supporting the ALJ's
finding that Dr. Kamara had not examined Plaintiff since that
date. (Report at 21 n.15). Judge Kay noted that Plaintiff did
not address another statement in which he indicated that he
could lift up to 15 or 20 pounds, and did not address his
conflicting testimony about the hours that he could sit and
stand. (Id. at 22). Judge Kay recommended denying
Plaintiffs motion for judgment of reversal. (Id. at
now challenges the Report. He argues that Judge Kay erred by
concluding that the ALJ's assessment of Dr. Kamara's
report was appropriate because of the lack of record evidence
that the doctor had examined Plaintiff recently, because the
ALJ actually gave Dr. Kamara's opinion no weight because
she did not submit contemporaneous treatment notes. (PI.
Objection at 5-6, ECF No. 16). Plaintiff submits that the
absence of contemporaneous treatment notes is not a valid
reason for discounting a treating physician's opinion.
(Id.) Plaintiff also reiterates his challenge to the
ALJ's finding that Plaintiff could lift at least ten
pounds, contrary to Plaintiffs testimony at the hearing.
Plaintiff asks this court to "correct" Judge
Kay's finding that the ALJ's conclusion, contrary to
Dr. Kamara's opinion, was supported by substantial
evidence. (Id. at 9-10).
Magistrate Judge issues a recommendation for a dispositive
motion, the "district judge must determine de novo any
part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been
properly objected to." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The judge
may then "accept, reject, or modify the recommended
disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter
to the magistrate judge with instructions." Id.
order to receive disability benefits, a claimant must prove
that he or she is unable "to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result
in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C.
§ 423 (d)(1)(A). The disability must be so severe that
the claimant "is not only unable to do his previous work
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work."
Id. § 423 (d)(2)(A). "The claimant must
support his claim of impairment with '[o]bjective medical
evidence' that is 'established by medically
acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic
techniques.'" Espinosa v. Colvin, 953
F.Supp.2d 25, 31 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
Social Security Administration's evaluation of a
disability claim follows a five step inquiry: (1) Is the
claimant engaged in substantial gainful work? (2) Does the
claimant have a severe impairment? (3) Does the impairment
equate to a listed disability in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1? (4) Is the claimant able to return to their
relevant past work, despite suffering the impairment? (5) Can
the claimant perform any other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy? Brown v.
Bowen, 794 F.2d 703, 705-706 (D.C. Cir. 1986).
"Between the third and fourth step, the SSA uses the
entire record to make a determination of the claimant's
residual functional capacity ('RFC'), which is
'the most [the claimant] can still do despite [the]
limitations' caused by the impairment."
Espinosa, 953 F.Supp.2d at 31 (quoting 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1545(a)(5)(ii)). If,
during the fourth step, the Plaintiffs RFC indicates that
they are able to "return to their relevant past
work", then the claimant is not disabled. Id.
Similarly, if, during the fifth step, the claimant's RFC
shows they can adapt to "other work that exists in the
national economy, " then they are not disabled.
Id. "During these first four steps, the
claimant bears the burden of proof. At the fifth and final
stage, the burden shifts to the Secretary to show that the
individual, based upon his or her age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, is capable of
performing gainful work." Brown, 794 F.2d at
a disability proceeding, the ALJ 'has the power and the
duty to investigate fully all matters in issue, and to
develop the comprehensive record required for a fair
determination of disability.'" Butler v.
Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 999 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citation
omitted). Therefore, a reviewing court will not overturn the
findings of the Commissioner if they are "supported by
substantial evidence and [are] not tainted by an error of
law." Smith v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C.
Cir. 1987); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence "is 'such relevant evidence as
a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'" Butler, 353 F.3d at 999
(quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971)). A reviewing court in a substantial-evidence case
must engage in "careful scrutiny of the entire
record." Brown, 794 F.2d at 705.
argues that the ALJ erred by failing to give sufficient
weight to Dr. Kamara's opinion that Plaintiff could only
sit, stand, and walk for less than two hours per day, and
could lift less than ten pounds. In this Circuit, "[a]
treating physician's report is 'binding on the
factfinder unless contradicted by substantial
evidence.'" Butler, 353 F.3d at 1003
(quoting Williams v. Shalala,997 F.2d 1494, 1498
(D.C. Cir. 1993)); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c) (an ALJ will give "controlling weight"
to an opinion by a treating source, in determining disability
insurance eligibility, that is not inconsistent with other
substantial evidence in the record), 20 C.F.R. § 416.927
(same standards for determining SSI benefits). Substantial
evidence is "more than a scintilla, but can be satisfied
by something less than a preponderance." Id.
Where an ALJ does not give a treating source's opinion
controlling weight, the ALJ is to determine how much weight
to give the opinion based on factors including the length and
frequency of examination, nature and extent of the treatment