United States District Court, D. Maryland
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-captioned case has been
referred to me to review the parties' dispositive motions
and to make recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 301.5(b)(ix). I have considered
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, and Mr.
Green's reply. [ECF Nos. 12, 13, 16]. 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. 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996); Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514,
517 (4th Cir. 1987). For the reasons set forth below, I
recommend that both motions be denied, that the
Commissioner's decision be reversed in part, and that the
case be remanded to the Commissioner for further analysis.
Green filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) on December 14, 2011, originally alleging
a disability onset date of May 10, 2005. (Tr. 136-39). His
application was denied initially on March 23, 2012, and on
reconsideration on September 11, 2012. (Tr. 66-72, 74-80). An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
on June 9, 2014, at which Mr. Green was represented by
counsel. (Tr. 31-65). Following the hearing, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Green was not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act during the relevant time frame.
(Tr. 15-30). The Appeals Council denied Mr. Green's
request for review, (Tr. 1-7), so the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Green suffered from the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis. (Tr. 20).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr. Green
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to “perform the full range of light work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(b).” (Tr. 22). After considering the
testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ
determined that Mr. Green could perform his past relevant
work as a car salesman and, alternatively, could perform
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Tr. 25-26). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Mr.
Green was not disabled. (Tr. 26-27).
Green disagrees. He raises two primary arguments on appeal:
(1) that the ALJ did not adequately consider the Social
Security Administration's prior determination that Mr.
Green qualified for disability benefits as of March 1, 2009
(the date he applied for Supplemental Security Income
benefits); and (2) the ALJ improperly evaluated Listing 1.04.
Because I agree that the ALJ should have evaluated the prior
disability determination, I recommend that the case be
remanded to the Commissioner for additional explanation. In
so recommending, I express no opinion as to whether the
Commissioner's ultimate decision that Mr. Green was not
entitled to benefits, was correct or incorrect.
March 1, 2009, Mr. Green filed an application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). [ECF No.
12-2]. On December 9, 2009, he received a letter notifying
him that he had been found disabled and would receive SSI
beginning April, 2009. Id. The ALJ was aware of the
previous finding of disability and award of SSI benefits at
the time of the hearing. (Tr. 1278). Nonetheless, the ALJ did
not address that previous finding at any point within his
Green cites Lively v. Secretary of Health and Human
Servs., 820 F.2d 1391 (4th Cir. 1987) for the
proposition that res judicata prohibits the
Commissioner from reaching an inconsistent result in a second
proceeding based on evidence already weighed in a
claimant's favor in a first proceeding. Pl. Mot. at 4-5.
The Commissioner correctly notes that this case can be
factually distinguished from Lively because (1) the
period being considered in Mr. Green's DIB claim
(September 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008) predated the
Commissioner's prior finding of disability onset on
January 27, 2009, and (2) the two findings are not inherently
“inconsistent, ” since the dates are separated by
almost one month. However, it is also true that, upon
receiving treatment in January, 2009, Mr. Green reported that
he had been experiencing symptoms for weeks, and that medical
records within the relevant time frame for his DIB claim
reflect that he was experiencing right-sided numbness that
correlates with the right-sided symptoms resulting in his
surgery in early 2009. See, e.g., (Tr.
1288) (indicating that right-sided tingling and weakness had
developed six weeks prior to the appointment on January 22,
2009); (Tr. 724) (documenting right arm and leg numbness in
December, 2008); (Tr. 745) (documenting right hand numbness
and right arm weakness in November, 2008). Thus, there is
arguable inconsistency between the two decisions, and, like
in Lively, res judicata principles might apply even
though the time periods are not identical, particularly given
the close proximity of less than one month. It may be that
the ALJ can establish that Mr. Green's condition worsened
sufficiently in January to justify the later disability onset
date. However, because the ALJ failed to acknowledge the
disability finding and provided no analysis or explanation as
to why Mr. Green would be found “not disabled” in
December but “disabled” in January, I am unable
to ascertain whether the ALJ's determination was
supported by substantial evidence.
Green also contends that the ALJ's analysis of Listing
1.04A did not comport with the dictates of Radford v.
Colvin, 734 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2013). Pl. Mot. 6-9.
Without question, the ALJ could have provided some additional
factual analysis to support his conclusion that the Listing
had not been met or equaled. For example, the ALJ
conclusorily asserts that Mr. Green lacks “evidence of
nerve root compression accompanied by sensory or reflex loss,
” (Tr. 22), without citing to any of the medical
records that Mr. Green submits contain such evidence, and
without reviewing the other criteria in the Listing, such as
“neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, ”
“limitation of motion of the spine, ” or
“motor loss.” See 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, App. 1, § 1.04A. Accordingly, since the case
is being remanded on other grounds, I recommend that, on
remand, the ALJ provide more specific analysis regarding
whether Mr. Green experienced each of the relevant criteria
of Listing 1.04A within a twelve-month period.
reasons set forth above, I respectfully recommend that:
Court DENY Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF
Court DENY Mr. Green's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF
Court REVERSE IN PART due to inadequate analysis the
Commissioner's judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g);
Court REMAND this case to the Commissioner for further
proceedings in ...