United States District Court, D. Maryland
November 25, 2015, Plaintiff Kevin Lynn Pile 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
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 rationale.
Pile filed his claim for benefits on March 5, 2012, alleging
a disability onset date of July 25, 2009. (Tr. 166-72). His
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr.
66-79, 81-94). A hearing was held on June 23, 2014, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 28-65).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. Pile was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 9-27). The Appeals
Council denied Mr. Pile's request for review, (Tr. 1-6),
so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Pile suffered from the severe impairments of
“seizure disorder (status-post trauma), anxiety
disorder, affective disorder and headaches.” (Tr. 14).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr. Pile
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he
must avoid all exposure to temperature extremes (hot and
cold). In addition, he must be allowed to avoid hazards
(including dangerous machinery and heights). Further, the
claimant is capable of performing unskilled (SVP 2) work, in
a non-production oriented work setting, with no interaction
with the public, and no more than occasional interaction with
co-workers and supervisors.
(Tr. 17). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Pile
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, he was not disabled.
Pile raises one primary argument on appeal in three different
contests - essentially, that the ALJ failed to address his
visual and balance impairments at any point in the sequential
evaluation. I agree. In so holding, I express no opinion as
to whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Mr. Pile is
not entitled to disability benefits is correct or incorrect.
is required to discuss each diagnosis that is supported by
objective medical evidence in the claimant's record.
See Boston v. Barnhart, 332 F.Supp.2d 879, 885 (D.
Md. 2004); Albert v. Astrue, 2011 WL 3417109, at *2
(D. Md. July 29, 2011). On June 3, 2010, an optometrist, Dr.
Marsha D. Benshir, diagnosed Mr. Pile with a long list of
visual impairments including binocular vision disorder,
diplopia, ocular motor disorder, convergence insufficiency,
premature presbyopia, tonic pupils, hyperopia, astigmatism,
and suppression. (Tr. 413-15). She recommended glasses,
vision therapy, and further testing. Id. Here, the
ALJ did not evaluate Mr. Pile's visual diagnoses or
issues with balance at step two.
Court has held that an ALJ's failure to consider the
severity of a diagnosis at step two is harmless where the ALJ
corrects his or her error by “fully consider[ing] the
impact” of the neglected evidence when determining the
claimant's RFC. See Burroughs v. Comm'r,
Soc. Sec. Admin., 2015 WL 540719, at *1 (D. Md. Feb. 9,
2015). Here, however, the ALJ did not consider the impact of
Mr. Pile's vision and balance issues in her RFC
assessment. The ALJ is required to consider all of a
claimant's impairments, both severe and non-severe, in
assessing the claimant's RFC. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545(a)(2). The ALJ acknowledges that Mr. Pile
alleged an impaired ability to “see” and a
“loss of balance, ” (Tr. 18), but did not address
those issues any further, either to make credibility findings
regarding those allegations or to make any reference to the
medical records from Dr. Benshir, the physical therapists
working on Mr. Pile's balance issues, or Mr. Pile's
reports to another physician, Dr. Furlow, regarding vision or
balance problems. Accordingly, the ALJ entirely failed to
consider Mr. Pile's vision-related diagnoses, and remand
is required as a result. See Copes v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 2015 WL 9412521,
at *2 (D. Md. Dec. 21, 2015).
and the Commissioner rely repeatedly on the assertion that
Mr. Pile was medically cleared for a Commercial Driver's
License as of February 28, 2011. See, e.g., (Tr.
15). It may be that the medical clearance evidences a
resolution of any visual issues by that time. However, Mr.
Pile alleges disability beginning almost two years prior, on
July 25, 2009. Without any discussion of his visual
capabilities or diagnoses, it is unclear whether Mr. Pile was
able to perform the jobs identified by the VE during the
entire period of alleged disability. Certainly, I am unable
to review the ALJ's reasoning on these issues using the
current ALJ opinion.
reasons set forth herein, Mr. Pile's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) 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
an opinion and docketed as an order.
Stephanie A. Gallagher United ...