United States District Court, D. Maryland
March 15, 2016, Plaintiff Amanda Beth Green petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claim for Supplemental Security
Income. (ECF No. 1). I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment, and Plaintiff's
response. (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
Plaintiff's motion, grant the Commissioner's motion,
and affirm the Commissioner's judgment pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This letter
explains my rationale.
Green filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on October 10, 2010. (Tr. 13). She
alleged a disability onset date of December 11, 2009. (Tr.
12). Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration.
(Tr. 139-41, 146-47). A hearing was held on March 2, 2012,
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr.
175). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Green was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 113-129).
The Appeals Council granted Ms. Green's request for
review, (Tr.130-34), after which a second hearing was held on
June 6, 2014. (Tr. 12). The ALJ again denied benefits. (Tr.
12-25). The Appeals Council thereafter denied Ms. Green's
request for review, (Tr. 1), so the ALJ's 2014 decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Green suffered from the severe impairments of
obesity, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis,
affective/bipolar disorder, PTSD/anxiety disorder, borderline
intellectual functioning, history of intravenous drug use.
(Tr. 14). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Green retained the residual functional capacity
to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except
the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding,
and she is unable to tolerate exposure to workplace hazards
such as unprotected heights and moving machinery. She can use
commonsense understanding to perform detailed but uninvolved
oral or written instructions, consistent with a range of
simple, routine, and unskilled work at or below reasoning
level two as those terms are defined in the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles. She can work with the general public,
co-workers, and supervisors occasionally. Furthermore, Ms.
Green can perform low-stress jobs, defined as work that is
not performed at an assembly-line pace or production pace,
with few workplace changes and little independent decision
(Tr. 18). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Green
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, she was not disabled.
appeal, Ms. Green argues that the ALJ failed to determine
that she had an intellectual disability as defined at Medical
Listings 12.05(C) and 12.05(D). Pl.'s Mot. 1. This
argument lacks merit and is addressed below.
Green argues that the ALJ's listing analysis is erroneous
because “it was based on conclusions and findings of
fact which were not supported by substantial evidence and/or
were contrary to Social Security law and regulation.”
Pl.'s Mot. 16, 16-26. If Ms. Green is right, the
ALJ's listing analysis would violate the Fourth
Circuit's mandate in Fox v. Colvin, 632 Fed.
App'x. 750 (4th Cir. 2015). Step three requires the ALJ
to determine 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 describe each of
the major body system impairments that the Agency
“consider[s] to be severe enough to prevent an
individual from doing any gainful activity, regardless of his
or her age, education, or work experience.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1525(a). In Fox, the Fourth Circuit held
that the ALJ's listing analysis was deficient because it
consisted of conclusory statements and did not include
“any ‘specific application of the pertinent legal
requirements to the record evidence.'” Id.
at 754 (quoting Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288,
291-92 (4th Cir. 2013)). That is, the ALJ did not apply any
findings or medical evidence to the identified disability
listings and offered nothing to reveal why he was making his
decision. Radford, 734 F.3d at 295. Thus,
Fox requires that an ALJ provide express analysis,
with factual support, to conclude that a listing has not been
met at step three. The Fourth Circuit also rejected the
notion that failure to engage in meaningful analysis at step
three could constitute harmless error where the evidence of
record otherwise demonstrated that the claimant did not meet
a listing. Fox, 632 Fed. App'x. at 755. Rather,
the Fox Court emphasized that it is not this
Court's role to “engage[ ] in an analysis that the
ALJ should have done in the first instance, ” or
“to speculate as to how the ALJ applied the law to its
findings or to hypothesize the ALJ's justifications that
would perhaps find support in the record.” Id.
The Court noted that it could not conduct a meaningful review
“when there is nothing on which to base a
instant case, regarding his findings at step three of the
sequential evaluation, the ALJ stated that “[t]he
severity of the claimant's mental impairments, considered
singly and in combination, do not meet or medically equal the
criteria of listing… 12.05.” (Tr. 16). The ALJ
went on to provide a detailed explanation, with references to
the evidence of record, to support his conclusion that Ms.
Green did not satisfy either Listing 12.05(C) or 12.05(D).
(Tr. 16-23). For a claimant to have an intellectual
disability, Listing 12.05 requires “significant
subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in
adaptive functioning initially manifested during the
development period … before age 22 …
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
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,