United States District Court, D. Maryland
October 13, 2015, Plaintiff Michael Angelo Lamberti
petitioned this Court to review the Social Security
Administration's final decision to deny his claims for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (ECF No.
1). I have considered the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment, and Mr. Lamberti's reply. (ECF Nos. 18,
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.
Lamberti filed his claims for benefits on May 19, 2011,
alleging a disability onset date of May 27, 2010. (Tr.
206-19). His claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 129-34, 145-48). A hearing was held on
March 25, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 48-64). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Lamberti was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 28-46). The Appeals Council denied Mr.
Lamberti's request for review. (Tr. 1-6). Thus, the
ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision
of the Agency.
found that Mr. Lamberti suffered from the severe impairments
of “arthritis, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression,
and a history of polysubstance abuse.” (Tr. 33).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Lamberti retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except the claimant would be limited to work that
has a sit/stand option at will. Additionally, the claimant
has the ability to understand, remember, and carryout (sic)
instructions for simple and routine tasks; make simple
decisions occasionally; use judgment to make work related
decisions that are simple work related decisions; interact
with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public
occasionally; deal with changes in a routine work setting in
which the changes are simple work related decisions; perform
work that does not require satisfaction of production pace;
and perform work at low stress by avoiding productions
standards, changes generally, or judgment changes.
(Tr. 35). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr.
Lamberti could perform jobs existing in significant numbers
in the national economy and that, therefore, he was not
disabled. (Tr. 41-42).
appeal, Mr. Lamberti contends that the ALJ did not engage in
a proper analysis of Listing 1.04A. 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. Lamberti was not entitled to benefits
was correct or incorrect.
ALJ's opinion included the following:
The undersigned has reviewed all the Listing of Impairments
particularly the listings in sections 1.02 (major dysfunction
of a joint) and 1.04 (disorder of the spine). The claimant
has severe impairments, but the claimant's impairments,
combined or separately, have not meet [sic] or equaled any
impairment described in the Listing of Impairments at any
time relevant to this decision. The evidence shows that the
claimant has received appropriate treatment for his above
noted musculoskeletal impairments. The medical records show
that he has been treated with multiple medications, physical
therapy, spinal injections, and arthroscopic surgery on his
left knee (Exhibit 12F). His treatment notes show that he
reported improvement with his neck and back pain with
injections. Following his knee surgery, his physical therapy
records show that he made good progress with treatment. In
January 2014, it was noted that he was guarding his knee, but
when he was ambulating and distracted he was able to achieve
a full extension of his left knee.
(Tr. 34). It is clear that the ALJ believed there to be ample
evidence to identify and discuss Listings 1.02 and 1.04.
However, after identifying those Listings, the ALJ did not
discuss any of the relevant criteria for any of the
subsections in either Listing. The Commissioner argues, quite
correctly, that the ALJ's analysis need not be in the
“step three” section of the opinion in order for
the opinion to be adequate as a whole. In this case, though,
the ALJ does not mention the relevant criteria at any point
in the opinion. For example, as to Listing 1.04A, the ALJ
does not determine whether Mr. Lamberti has evidence of nerve
root compression, neuro-anatomic distribution of pain,
limitation of motion of the spine, or motor loss accompanied
by sensory or reflex loss. The ALJ also did not address the
criteria of Listings 1.04B or 1.04C. The ALJ's general
commentary on Mr. Lamberti's back condition and
treatments does not suffice to constitute “specific
application of the pertinent legal requirements to the record
evidence.” Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288,
291-92 (4th Cir. 2013). Accordingly, remand is warranted for
further analysis that might permit appellate review.
worth noting, however, that this Court specifically rejects
the Commissioner's contention, in this case and in other
cases, that Listing 1.04A requires evidence of muscle
atrophy. Def. Mem. at 8. The language of the Listing requires
evidence of “motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle
weakness or muscle weakness).” While the grammatical
structure of the Listing is poor, construing the Listing to
require “atrophy” in all instances would render
the phrase “or muscle weakness” superfluous.
Accordingly, basic rules of statutory construction dictate
that “motor loss” be defined as either
“atrophy with associated muscle weakness” or just
reasons set forth herein, Mr. Lamberti's Motion for
Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18) 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