United States District Court, D. Maryland
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.
October 29, 2015, Plaintiff Sheila Denise Young
(“Plaintiff”) petitioned this Court to review the
Social Security Administration's final decision to deny
claims for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental
Security Income filed by her now-deceased husband, Wayne
Wainwright Young (“Mr. Young”). (ECF No. 1). I
have considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment and Plaintiff's reply memorandum. (ECF Nos. 16,
17, 18). 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 motions, reverse the
judgment of the Commissioner, and remand the case to the
Commissioner for further analysis pursuant to sentence four
of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter explains my
Young filed his claims for benefits in April 2011, alleging a
disability onset date of November 12, 2010. (Tr. 236-41,
242-48). His claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 99-104, 106-13). Hearings were held on
August 8, 2013 and December 5, 2013, before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 35-98). Following the
hearings, the ALJ determined that Mr. Young was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the
relevant time frame. (Tr. 20-34). The Appeals Council denied
Mr. Young's request for review, (Tr. 1-5), so the
ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision
of the Agency.
found that Mr. Young suffered from the severe impairments of
“seizure disorder and anxiety disorder.” (Tr.
26). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr.
Young retained the residual functional capacity
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: except simple,
unskilled work, occasionally climb ramps and stairs, never
climb rope, ladder, scaffold, never balance, and avoid all
exposure to hazards, defined as heights and moving machinery.
29). After considering the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Young could
perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy and that, therefore, he was not disabled. (Tr.
raises two primary arguments on appeal: 1) that the ALJ erred
under Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir.
2015); and (2) that the ALJ otherwise mischaracterized
material evidence. I agree, and find that remand is warranted
because the ALJ failed to adequately account for Mr.
Young's moderate limitation in concentration,
persistence, or pace in her RFC assessment, and
mischaracterized an opinion from Mr. Young's treating
physician, Dr. Bird.
in Mascio, the United States Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit determined that remand was appropriate for
three distinct reasons, including, as pertinent to this case,
the inadequacy of the ALJ's evaluation of “moderate
difficulties” in concentration, persistence, or pace.
732 F.3d at 638. At step three of the sequential evaluation,
the ALJ determines whether a claimant's impairments meet
or medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Listings 12.00 et.
seq., pertain to mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00. The relevant listings therein
consists of: (1) a brief statement describing a subject
disorder; (2) “paragraph A criteria, ” which
consists of a set of medical findings; and (3)
“paragraph B criteria, ” which consists of a set
of impairment-related functional limitations. Id. at
§ 12.00(A). If both the paragraph A criteria and the
paragraph B criteria are satisfied, the ALJ will determine
that the claimant meets the listed impairment. Id.
B consists of four broad functional areas: (1) activities of
daily living; (2) social functioning; (3) concentration,
persistence, or pace; and (4) episodes of decompensation. The
ALJ employs the “special technique” to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in each area, based on
the extent to which the claimant's impairment
“interferes with [the claimant's] ability to
function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a
sustained basis.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1620a(c)(2), 416.920a(c)(2). The ALJ uses a five-point
scale to rate a claimant's degree of limitation in the
first three areas: none, mild, moderate, marked, or extreme.
Id. at §§ 404.1620a(c)(4), 416.920a(c)(4).
In order to satisfy paragraph B, a claimant must exhibit
either “marked” limitations in two of the first
three areas, or “marked” limitation in one of the
first three areas with repeated episodes of decompensation.
See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1
functional area of “concentration, persistence, or pace
refers to the ability to sustain focused attention and
concentration sufficiently long to permit the timely and
appropriate completion of tasks commonly found in work
settings.” Id. at § 12.00(C)(3). Social
Security regulations do not define limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace “by a specific
number of tasks that [a claimant is] unable to
complete.” Id. The regulations, however, offer
little guidance on the meaning of “moderate”
Fourth Circuit remanded Mascio because the
hypothetical the ALJ posed to the VE-and the corresponding
RFC assessment-did not include any mental limitations other
than unskilled work, despite the fact that, at step three of
the sequential evaluation, the ALJ determined that the
claimant had moderate difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace. Mascio, 780
F.3d at 637-38. The Fourth Circuit specifically held that it
“agree[s] with other circuits that an ALJ does not
account for a claimant's limitations in concentration,
persistence, and pace by restricting the hypothetical
question to simple, routine tasks or unskilled work.”
Id. at 638 (quoting Winschel v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1180 (11th Cir. 2011))
(internal quotation marks omitted). In so holding, the Fourth
Circuit emphasized the distinction between the ability to
perform simple tasks and the ability to stay on task, stating
that “[o]nly the latter limitation would account for a
claimant's limitation in concentration, persistence, or
pace.” Id. Even so, the Fourth Circuit noted
that the ALJ's error might have been cured by an
explanation as to why the claimant's moderate
difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace did not
translate into a limitation in the claimant's RFC.
instant case, in a conclusory paragraph including no
reasoning whatsoever, the ALJ found that Mr. Young had
“moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration,
persistence or pace.” (Tr. 28). The only relevant
analysis elsewhere in the opinion is a statement reading,
“However, the undersigned found, despite an absence of
specific treatment, that the claimant's anxiety or panic
attacks could also affect the claimant's mental status,
particularly his concentration, persistence, and pace, thus
RFC limited to simple, unskilled work.” (Tr. 32).
the ALJ's limited analysis is simply insufficient to
permit adequate review. Without further explanation, I am
unable to ascertain whether the ALJ truly believed Mr. Young
to have had moderate difficulties in concentration,
persistence, and pace, instead of mild, or no difficulties,
and how those difficulties restricted his RFC to
“simple, unskilled work” without further
limitation. For example, moderate difficulties in
concentration and persistence might have impacted Mr.
Young's ability to sustain even simple work throughout an
eight hour workday. In light of this inadequacy, I must
remand the case to the Commissioner for further analysis
consistent with the Fourth Circuit's mandate in
Mascio. On remand, the ALJ should explain why Mr.
Young suffered moderate difficulties in concentration,
persistence, and pace, and should impose whatever ...