United States District Court, D. Maryland
David Lee Brown, Jr.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
February 22, 2016, Plaintiff David Lee Brown, Jr. petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny his claim for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”). (ECF No. 1). I have considered
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF
Nos. 16, 19). 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
Brown filed his claim for benefits in May of 2012, alleging a
disability onset date of January 2, 2003. (Tr. 134-42). His
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr.
67-76, 78-88). A hearing was held on July 11, 2014, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 24-65).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. Brown was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 6-22). The Appeals
Council denied Mr. Brown's request for review, (Tr. 1-3),
so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Brown suffered from the severe impairments of
“borderline IQ, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder, bipolar disorder and depression.” (Tr. 11).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr. Brown
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: he is able to
perform routine, repetitive, simple tasks with occasional
interaction with coworkers, supervisors and the public. He
would need to be in positions where he would not be required
to set goals or make plans independently.
(Tr. 14). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Brown
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, he was not disabled.
Brown raises several arguments on appeal. Although many of
his arguments fail, I find remand to be warranted on two
grounds: the ALJ's failure to address Mr. Brown's
visual deficits and the ALJ's failure to comply with the
dictates of Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir.
2015). In so holding, I express no opinion as to
whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Mr. Brown was
not entitled to benefits is correct or incorrect.
briefly to some of the unsuccessful arguments, I am not
persuaded that the ALJ conducted an insufficient analysis of
the mental health Listings. The ALJ engaged in the required
analysis of each functional area and cited to record evidence
in support of his conclusions. (Tr. 12). In addition, the ALJ
provided a thorough explanation of his evaluation of the
evidence regarding Mr. Brown's IQ. (Tr. 13-14). Mr.
Brown's arguments about the inadequacy of the Listing
analysis focus on the weight the ALJ assigned to certain
pieces of evidence over other pieces of evidence. That
inquiry is not permissible, since this Court's role is
not to reweigh the evidence or to substitute its judgment for
that of the ALJ, but simply to adjudicate whether the
ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence.
See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
also not convinced that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of
Mr. Brown's seizures or his alleged intellectual
disability. As noted above, the ALJ provided an extensive
analysis of Mr. Brown's IQ scores, citing to substantial
evidence in support of his conclusions. As to the seizures,
the ALJ acknowledged Mr. Brown's testimony that he
suffered from seizures (Tr. 14), but noted that he was
receiving no treatment and that objective testing failed to
demonstrate any signs of seizure disorder. (Tr. 15).
Accordingly, both alleged impairments were considered fully
by the ALJ.
equally unpersuaded that the ALJ erred by failing to consider
a prior award of Childhood SSI benefits to Mr. Brown. The
record contains contradictory information as to whether Mr.
Brown ever received Children's SSI - agency records seem
to indicate that Mr. Brown's prior applications for
benefits were denied, while Mr. Brown contends that they were
granted. Compare (Tr. 149) with (Tr.
109-111). Even if Mr. Brown were to produce evidence
to substantiate a previous award of benefits, because the
standard for Children's SSI is entirely different from
that applicable to adult SSI, it is unclear that a prior
award of Children's SSI would have or should have any
meaningful effect on the ALJ's analysis in this case.
Mr. Brown's arguments about the weight assigned to
various medical sources and to the propriety of the
hypothetical posed to the VE all ask this Court to reweigh
the evidence of record and second guess the ALJ's
conclusions. As noted above, that type of analysis is
Mr. Brown correctly contends that the ALJ failed to address
his documented visual deficits. See, e.g., (Tr.
236-37) (pediatrician report noting blindness in one eye and
amblyopia). Mr. Brown testified at the hearing about his
visual difficulties, (Tr. 34-35), and his inability to drive
as a result of his visual issues, (Tr. 45-46). Despite the
documented diagnosis and the hearing testimony, the ALJ did
not address Mr. Brown's visual problems at all, either to
determine that the visual issues would have little to no
impact on Mr. Brown's ability to work or to find
limitations that might be appropriate for a person with
visual/spatial issues, such as a restriction on operating
heavy machinery or working at significant heights. In the
absence of any mention of Mr. Brown's visual impairments,
I am unable to find the error harmless, and remand is
find that the ALJ's analysis runs afoul of Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015). The ALJ in this
case made a finding of “moderate difficulties” in
the area of concentration, persistence, and pace, stating in
relevant part that, “Dr. Gambles noted that the
claimant's concentration problems are mild and can be
managed but he has difficulty with following complex
instructions.” (Tr. 12) (citation omitted). The ALJ did
not discuss any issues with Mr. Brown's ability to
sustain work throughout an eight-hour workday. Later in the
opinion, the ALJ assigned “great weight” to the
opinion of non-examining State agency physician L. Payne,
Ph.D., who opined that Mr. Brown would have moderate
limitations in “maintaining attention and concentration
for extended periods[.]” (Tr. 16). In light of the lack
of any discussion of Mr. Brown's ability to sustain work,
and the lack of any limitations in the RFC assessment to
address Mr. Brown's moderate difficulty in concentration,
persistence, and pace, remand is required. See
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 638 (noting that ...