United States District Court, D. Maryland
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
September 24, 2015, Plaintiff Richard Mark Hambleton
petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's final decision to deny his claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (ECF No.
1). I have considered the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment, and Mr. Hambleton's reply. (ECF Nos.
16, 19, 20). I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This Court must
uphold the decision of the Agency if it is supported by
substantial evidence and if the Agency employed proper legal
standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th
Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will deny both
parties' motions, reverse the Commissioner's
judgment, and remand the case to the Commissioner for further
consideration pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). This letter explains my rationale.
Hambleton protectively filed a claim for DIB benefits on July
5, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of June 15, 2012.
(Tr. 91). His claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 106-09, 113-16). A hearing was held on
April 16, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 39-79). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Hambleton was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 16-38). The Appeals Council denied Mr.
Hambleton's request for review. (Tr. 1-5). Thus, the
ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision
of the Agency.
found that Mr. Hambleton suffered from the severe impairments
of lumbar degenerative disc disease, obesity, depression, and
anxiety. (Tr. 21). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Hambleton retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
postural activities are all occasional, but there should be
no climbing of a ladder, rope, or scaffold; and should avoid
concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, hazards,
defined as heights and moving machinery, and vibrations.
Non-exertionally, he is limited to simple unskilled work,
work not performed at a production pace, meaning paid by the
piece or working at an assembly line; and low stress work,
meaning only occasional changes in the work setting.
(Tr. 23-24). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr.
Hambleton could perform jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy and that, therefore, he was not
disabled. (Tr. 31-32).
appeal, Mr. Hambleton contends that the ALJ's analysis of
Listing 1.04A failed to comport with the requirements of
Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2013). On
this record, I agree that remand is warranted for further
analysis. In so holding, I express no opinion as to whether
the ALJ's ultimate determination that Mr. Hambleton was
not entitled to benefits was correct or incorrect.
identified Listing 1.04, and included the following analysis:
The claimant's spinal disorders fail to meet the criteria
of section 1.04 in that there is no compromise of a nerve
root or the spinal cord. Nor is there any evidence of nerve
root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution
of pain, limitation or motion of the spine, or motor loss
accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and there is no
positive straight-leg raising test. There is no spinal
archnoiditis [sic], confirmed by an operative note or
pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate
medically acceptable imaging, manifested by severe burning or
painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in
position or posture more than once every two hours. The
claimant does not have lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in
pseudoclaudication, established by finding on appropriate
medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic
nonradicular pain and weakness, and resulting in an inability
to ambulate effectively, as defined in section 1.00B2b.
(Tr. 22). It is clear that the ALJ believed there to be ample
evidence to identify and discuss each subsection of Listing
1.04, including Listing 1.04A. Thus, I disagree with Mr.
Hambleton's assertion that the ALJ erroneously added
additional criteria to the requirements of 1.04A by
discussing the requirements of the other subsections.
as to Listing 1.04A, several of the ALJ's factual
assertions are inaccurate. Mr. Hambleton cites specific
record evidence that arguably demonstrates nerve root
compression, weakness, numbness, tingling, and loss of range
of motion. Pl. Reply 10, (Tr. 347, 527, 540-41, 681, 683,
689, 695, 700, 831, 849, 922). There is also evidence of
positive straight-leg raising tests, and both motor loss and
sensory or reflex loss. (Tr. 25, 357, 486, 651, 831, 849,
916). The Commissioner makes several arguments that could
potentially explain the ALJ's conclusion that Listing
1.04A is not met, such as whether the positive straight-leg
raising tests were conducted in the sitting and supine
positions and whether the motor loss was sufficiently
“accompanied by” the sensory or reflex loss. Def.
Mot. 6-8. Ultimately, however, since the ALJ simply and
erroneously asserted an absence of evidence instead of
explaining her evaluation of the existing evidence, I am
unable to review her opinion to determine whether her
conclusion is adequately supported. Moreover, I note that if
the factual record is unclear as to the method of conducting
the straight-leg raising tests, and if this issue is
potentially determinative within the ALJ's analysis on
remand, the ALJ may not simply speculate that the testing was
insufficient, as suggested by the Commissioner. Instead, the
ALJ should contact the treating physician for clarification.
See SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183, at*5 (July 2, 1996).
reasons set forth herein, Mr. Hambleton's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED and Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19) is DENIED. Pursuant
to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the
Commissioner's judgment is REVERSED IN PART due to
inadequate analysis. The case is REMANDED for further
proceedings in accordance with this opinion. The Clerk is
directed to CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as