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Braxton v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Maryland

March 13, 2015

Charles Braxton
Carolyn Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security Administration

Dear Counsel:

On December 31, 2014, the Plaintiff, Charles Braxton (“Mr. Braxton”), petitioned this Court to review the Social Security Administration’s final decision to deny him Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. (ECF No. 1.) The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 16 & 18.) These motions have been referred to the undersigned with the parties’ consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 301. (ECF Nos. 7 & 11.) Having considered the submissions of the parties, I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. This Court must uphold the decision of the agency if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the agency employed proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Following its review, this Court may affirm, modify, or reverse the Commissioner, with or without a remand. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991). Under that standard, I will deny both motions and remand this case for further proceedings. This letter explains my rationale.

Mr. Braxton filed applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 173-83.) Mr. Braxton claimed alleged disability beginning on July 1, 2007, but subsequently amended his alleged onset date to December 3, 2009. (Tr. 40, 203.) Mr. Braxton’s claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 92-96, 103-16.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on August 16, 2012. (Tr. 26-65.) On August 28, 2012, the ALJ determined that Mr. Braxton was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 11-25.) The Appeals Council denied Mr. Braxton’s request for review (Tr. 1-4), so the ALJ’s decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the agency.

The ALJ evaluated Mr. Braxton’s claim for benefits using the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Mr. Braxton was not engaged in substantial gainful activity, and had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2007. (Tr. 13.) At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Braxton suffered from the severe impairments of obesity, degenerative joint disease (bilaterally), status-post left femoral fracture, and borderline intellectual functioning. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Mr. Braxton’s impairments, separately and in combination, failed to meet or equal in severity any listed impairment as set forth in 20 C.F.R., Chapter III, Pt. 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (“Listings”) (Tr.14-16). The ALJ determined that Mr. Braxton has the RFC

Perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.67(b) with the additional limitation that he can do work that occasionally requires balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing (except never requires the use of ladders, ropes and scaffolds). The claimant has to have a sit/stand option that allows him to sit or stand alternatively, at will. He is limited to occasional use of his left lower extremity for push/pulling. He should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, wetness, humidity, and hazards such as unprotected heights and moving machinery. Because of his mental impairments, he can perform jobs consisting of unskilled, routine, and repetitive tasks.

(Tr. 16.)

At step four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Braxton is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 20). At step five, the ALJ found that given Mr. Braxton’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, and based on the testimony of the vocational expert, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, including “cashier, ” “parking lot attendant, ” and “production worker.” (Tr. 20-21). Therefore, the ALJ found that Mr. Braxton was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 21).

Mr. Braxton’s chief argument is that the ALJ’s step three finding that Mr. Braxton did not meet Listing 12.05 is not supported by substantial evidence. “For a claimant to show that his impairment matches a listing, it must meet all of the specified medical criteria.” Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990) (emphasis in original). The claimant bears the burden of demonstrating that his impairment meets or equals a listed impairment. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987); Kellough v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1147, 1152 (4th Cir. 1986). In addition to meeting or medically equaling the criteria in the listings, a claimant’s impairment must also meet the duration requirement set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509 in order to satisfy a listing. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(c). An ALJ must analyze whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals a listing only when there is evidence in the record to support such a determination. Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168, 1173 (4th Cir. 1986); Ketcher v. Apfel, 68 F.Supp.2d 629, 645 (D. Md. 1999) (“Under Cook, the duty of identification of relevant listed impairments and comparison of symptoms to Listing criteria is only triggered if there is ample evidence in the record to support a determination that the claimant’s impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments.”)

The requirements of Listing 12.05 (“Intellectual Disability”) are as follows.

Intellectual disability refers to significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning initially manifested during the developmental period; i.e., the evidence demonstrates or supports onset of the impairment before age 22.
The required level of severity for this disorder is met when the requirements in A, B, C, or D are satisfied.
A. Mental incapacity evidenced by dependence upon others for personal needs (e.g., toileting, eating, dressing, or bathing) and inability to follow directions, such that the use of standardized measures of intellectual functioning is precluded; OR B. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 59 or less; OR C. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of function; OR D. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70, resulting in at least two of the following: 1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or 2. Marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; or 3. Marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or 4. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.

The Listings explain that [t]he structure of the listing for intellectual disability (12.05) is different from that of the other mental disorders listings. Listing 12.05 contains an introductory paragraph with the diagnostic description for intellectual disability. It also contains four sets of criteria (paragraphs A through D). If your impairment satisfies the diagnostic description in the introductory paragraph and any one of the four sets of criteria, we will find that your impairment meets the listing. Paragraphs A and B contain criteria that ...

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