United States District Court, District of Columbia
C. LAMBERTH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
considering a record crisscrossed with seventeen different
medical, psychological, and vocational providers, the Social
Security Administration deemed Mary Chambers ineligible for
disability benefits or supplemental income because she did
not meet the agency's definition of a disabled
individual. She now appeals, arguing that Administrative Law
Judge F. H. Ayer ("the ALJ") improperly weighed the
evidence and that he failed to consider Chambers's work
history in evaluating her credibility. But the ALJ hewed
closely to agency policy and reached a conclusion supported
by substantial evidence. Because it is not the role of the
courts to second-guess the ALJ's judgment, the Court
almost three decades, Chambers served the Washington, D.C.
government as a full-time support specialist. By all
accounts, she was an exemplary employee, consistently earning
a $40, 000 to $65, 000 salary.
now seeks benefits and supplemental income for a disability
she claims began in November 2014, shortly after she suffered
a transient ischemic attack (popularly referred to as a
ministroke) and quit her job due to stress. Around the same
time, her doctors also diagnosed her with sleep apnea,
hypertension, cerebral small vessel disease, and coronary
artery disease. By then a fifty-one-year-old smoker, she also
suffers from arthritis, osteopenia (a bone loss condition),
fatty liver disease, bladder wall thickening and infection,
urethral narrowing, sciatica, tremors, chronic fatigue,
cataracts, dry eyes, nearsightedness, age-related
farsightedness, and eye inflammation tied to allergies.
testimony before the ALJ, Chambers reported shortness of
breath; a racing heart; tingling, pain, and mild weakness in
her extremities; and difficulty ascending stairs and standing
for long periods. She also described frequent headaches,
which she treats by lying down with a vinegar-soaked rag.
(She claimed that this relieves her symptoms, and that she
does not want headache medication since she thinks she
already takes too many pills.)
doctors paint a more varied picture. In November 2014, after
Chambers went to the emergency room with persistent headaches
and facial numbness, an internist attributed Chambers's
headaches to hypertension and found her able to walk, climb
stairs, drive, and lift less than fifteen pounds. Two months
later, however, a neurologist mistakenly diagnosed her with
multiple sclerosis and advised her to cease work. A month
after that, her family physician reported Chambers felt fine.
Even still, when she saw a psychologist a few weeks after
that, he described her as totally disabled and unable to
work. But by the time she saw a second cardiologist a few
months later, Chambers said she had no pain at all. And
during the summer and fall of 2015, Chambers saw several more
doctors, all of whom reported unremarkable examinations and
noted her relative lack of self-reported impairment.
addition to her physical maladies, Chambers has a mental
impairment-variously diagnosed as post-traumatic stress
disorder or anxiety-that mildly restricts her daily living
activities and causes her moderate difficulties in social
functioning, concentration, persistence, and pace. According
to her testimony, this mental condition-not her physical
impairments-led her to quit her job: she reported being
threatened as a persistent whistleblower in a hostile
environment, and she attributes her ministroke to the
attendant stress. She also testified to feeling
claustrophobic and suffering consistent panic attacks.
Luckily, she has not experienced any decompensation episodes
and is undergoing treatment.
these impairments, Chambers does her best to continue a
normal routine. She continues to dress, bathe, and groom
herself independently. She attends church, watches
television, visits her grandchildren, launders and irons her
clothes, cleans the bathroom, does the dishes, and walks on
the treadmill to lose weight. She sleeps roughly seven hours
each night and denies experiencing daytime fatigue!
Prior Administrative Proceedings
considering the entire record, the ALJ found her cumulative
impairment less severe than the impairments described in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart B, Appendix 1. Moreover, the ALJ
found Chambers could perform light work, as defined by 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), albeit with
minor restrictions. And although those restrictions prevented
her from resuming her previous job, the ALJ pointed to
numerous other positions well-suited for Chambers's age,
education, experience, and functional capacity. As a result,
the ALJ concluded Chambers was not disabled under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i), 423(d), or 1382c(a)(3)(A).
unsuccessfully seeking review by the agency's Appeals
Counsel, Chambers filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. §
Standard of Review
405(g) limits our review to determining whether the ALJ
correctly applied the relevant legal standards and whether
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings. To
facilitate this review, Social Security regulations require
the ALJ to reconcile the claimant's testimony with the
medical evidence and-if his final "assessment conflicts
with an opinion from a medical source"-to ...