United States District Court, District of Columbia
P. Mehta United States District Judge.
Amanda Magee challenges an Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) decision denying her Supplemental
Security Income Benefits. She raises two errors. First,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly relied on
contradictory evidence from a vocational expert. Second, she
maintains that the ALJ violated the “treating physician
rule, ” which requires judges to give significant
weight to a treating physician's opinion. The court
agrees with Plaintiff on her first claim, but not her second.
The ALJ relied on vocational expert testimony that appears to
be contradictory, and so the court remands to the agency on
this limited issue. The court does not agree, however, with
Plaintiff's challenge to the ALJ's application of the
treating physician rule. The parties' motions therefore
are granted in part and denied in part.
is a 35-year-old living in Washington, D.C. On April 22,
2013, she filed an application for Supplemental Security
Income Benefits, alleging disability based on a diagnosis of
fibromyalgia. See Administrative Record, ECF Nos.
4-2 to 4-17 [hereinafter R.], at 15, 23, 849. The Social
Security Administration initially denied Plaintiff's
application on July 12, 2013, and did so again on
reconsideration on September 23, 2013. Id. at 23. On
February 21, 2014, Plaintiff appeared at a hearing in front
of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), see
id. at 23, who found Plaintiff not disabled, see
Id. at 32.
then sought review in this District Court, where she found
success. A magistrate judge determined that the ALJ had
failed to sufficiently develop the record with a mental
health consultative examination. Id. at 456-60. Her
success was short-lived, however. On remand, even taking
account of Plaintiff's mental health limitations, the ALJ
denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits, finding that she
was not disabled and that she could perform light, unskilled
work. Id. at 396. Relying on a vocational
expert's testimony, the ALJ concluded that there were
jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform.
Id. at 395-96.
filed this case on September 20, 2017. See Compl.,
ECF No. 1. On February 13, 2018, she filed a Motion for
Judgment of Reversal. See Pl.'s Mot. for Judg.
of Reversal, ECF No. 6 [hereinafter Pl.'s Mot.];
Pl.'s Mem. in Support of Pl.'s Mot., ECF 6-1
[hereinafter Pl.'s Mem.]. Defendant responded with a
Motion for Judgment of Affirmance on April 30, 2018.
See Def.'s Mot. for Judg. of Aff. and Opp'n
to Pl.'s Mot. for Judg. of Reversal, ECF No. 8
[hereinafter Def.'s Mot.]. Those motions are ripe for
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), individuals
denied benefits may seek review in a federal district court.
“The court must uphold the Secretary's
determination if it is supported by substantial evidence and
is not tainted by an error of law.” Smith v.
Bowen, 826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C. Cir. 1986). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla”; it is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(citations and quotations omitted). To determine whether the
Commissioner, acting through an ALJ, reached a decision
supported by substantial evidence, the court must give
“careful scrutiny of the entire record.”
Brown v. Bowen, 794 F.2d 703, 705 (D.C. Cir. 1986).
challenges two aspects of the ALJ's decision.
First, she asserts that the ALJ improperly relied on
contradictory testimony from the vocational expert.
See Pl.'s Mem. at 7-11, 16-17. Second,
she contends that the ALJ violated the treating physician
rule by failing to give proper weight to evidence from her
treating physician, Dr. Sharon Dowell, a rheumatologist.
Id. at 11-16. The court takes these issues in turn.
Vocational Expert's Contradiction
Commissioner has established a five-step process to determine
disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
Plaintiff's contention concerning the ALJ's reliance
on the vocational expert's testimony pertains to step
five, which places the burden on the Commissioner “to
demonstrate that the claimant is able to perform ‘other
work' based on a consideration of her ‘residual
functional capacity' (RFC), age, education and past work
experience.” Butler v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992,
997 (D.C. Cir. 2004).
case, the ALJ determined that the Commissioner had carried
her burden at step five. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had an
RFC “to perform light, unskilled work as defined in 20
CFR 416.967(a) except sit/stand alternatively provided that
she is not off task more than 10 percent of the workday; use
of a hand-held mechanically assistive device, namely a cane,
used for walking rarely; understand, remember, and carry out
instructions that are for simple, routine tasks occasionally;
make simple decisions ...