United States District Court, D. Maryland
March 30, 2016, Plaintiff Sandra Kay Jones petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
final decision to deny her claims for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). (ECF No. 1). I have considered the
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, and Ms.
Jones's reply. (ECF Nos. 15, 16, 17). 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 Ms. Jones'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.
Jones filed her claims for benefits in May of 2012, alleging
a disability onset date of June 1, 2011. (Tr. 164-67). She
amended her onset date to May 21, 2012. (Tr. 41). Her claims
were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 117-21,
124-27). A hearing was held on August 18, 2014, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 37-66).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Jones was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 19-36). The Appeals
Council denied Ms. Jones's request for review, (Tr.
5-10), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Jones suffered from the severe impairments of
“degenerative disc disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and
depression.” (Tr. 24). Despite these impairments, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Jones retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b); however, this individual is limited to standing
and walking 2 hours and sitting 6 hours; occasional climbing
of ramps and stairs; occasional climbing of ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching and crawling; frequent exposure to extreme cold,
vibration, hazards and no assembly line pace or production
(Tr. 26). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Jones
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, she was not disabled.
Jones raises several arguments on appeal, which do not
challenge the RFC assessment made by the ALJ, but challenge
the treatment of that RFC assessment under the governing
regulations and guidelines. First, Ms. Jones alleges that the
ALJ's RFC assessment should have been classified as
“sedentary work, ” not “light work.”
Second, following on that argument, Ms. Jones contends that
she was in a “borderline age range” such that she
should have been found to be disabled under the Medical
Vocational Guidelines because she was limited to sedentary
work. Because I disagree with Ms. Jones's argument
regarding the exertional classification of her RFC
assessment, remand is unwarranted.
Jones contends that the ALJ's RFC assessment suggested
that she could perform sedentary, not light, work. She is
correct that her limited walking and standing capacity, as
found by the ALJ, do not match the traditional requirements
for light work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567 (b)
(noting that light work typically requires “a good deal
of walking or standing.”). However, light work also
includes other types of physical exertion. See SSR
83-10, 1983 WL 31251, at *5 (“The regulations define
light work as lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with
frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10
pounds.”). According to SSR 83-12, where an
“individual's exertional limitations are somewhere
‘in the middle' in terms of the regulatory criteria
for exertional ranges of work, more difficult judgements are
involved as to the sufficiency of the remaining occupational
base to support a conclusion as to disability. Accordingly,
[VE] assistance is advisable for these types of cases.”
See SSR 83-12, 1983 WL 31253, at *3. Here, the ALJ
sought VE assistance, and obtained testimony that there were
light jobs allowing the worker to sit for six hours during an
eight hour workday. (Tr. 62-63). The restriction to
approximately two hours of standing or walking rendered Ms.
Jones capable not only of sedentary work, but of a reduced
range of light work that would permit her to sit for the
majority of the time. See, e.g., Hence
v. Astrue, No. 4:12-cv-1, 2012 WL 6691573, at *8 (E.D.
Va. Nov. 30, 2012) (“[A]n RFC limiting standing or
walking to about two hours does not mandate a finding that
[Plaintiff] could only perform sedentary
work.”) (emphasis in original); see also 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) (noting that a job can be light
work “when it involves sitting most of the time with
some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls.”).
support of her interpretation, Ms. Jones cites an unpublished
opinion from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in which
the Court concluded that a limitation to two hours of
standing and walking places a claimant in the sedentary
range. See Campbell v. Astrue, Civil No. 09-5356,
2010 WL 4689521 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 2, 2010). That authority is
not binding, and the Campbell court's conclusion
runs contrary not only to prior determinations I have made,
but also to the determinations of other district courts
within the Fourth Circuit. See, e.g., Hence, 2012 WL
6691573, at *8; Stone v. Colvin, No. TMD-14-2338,
2015 WL 5315769 (Sept. 9, 2015) (affirming an ALJ's
reliance upon VE testimony that a restricted range of light
jobs allows a worker to sit or stand at will); Hensley v.
Colvin, No. 5:13-CV-27810, 2015 WL 566626 (S.D.W.Va.
Feb. 10, 2015) (“To the extent that Claimant argues
that his RFC as determined by the ALJ requires a finding that
he can only perform sedentary work, his argument is
unpersuasive because he fails to understand the difference
between the full range of light work and a reduced range of
light work.”); Willoughby v. Comm'r, Soc.
Sec., No. RDB-13-0489, 2013 WL 5496834, at *1 (D. Md.
Oct. 2, 2013) (report and recommendations determining that a
limitation to two hours of standing and walking fell within a
reduced range of light work); Moaney v. Astrue, No.
PWG-09-1838, 2010 WL 3719297, at *3 (D. Md. Sept. 17, 2010)
(finding an RFC assessment limited to standing or walking for
two hours “consistent with the ALJ's finding of a
range of light work.”). Accordingly, while I
acknowledge the Campbell decision, I concur with the
reasoning of the above-cited cases. The RFC determined by the
ALJ in this case fell between the criteria for a full range
of light work and a full range of sedentary work. The ALJ
therefore properly obtained VE testimony and relied on the
VE's expertise to determine that there were a significant
number of light jobs that Ms. Jones could perform.
Ms. Jones suggests that even if the ALJ appropriately
classified her RFC as a reduced range of light work, the ALJ
did not “consider the extent of any erosion of the
occupational base and assess its significance” as
required by SSR 83-12. Under that SSR, “[w]here the
extent of erosion of the occupational base is not clear, the
adjudicator will need to consult a vocational
resource.” See SSR 83-12, 1983 WL 31253, at
*2. That is precisely the course the ALJ followed in this
case. Without using the term “erosion of the
occupational base, ” the VE clearly testified, in
response to questioning from the ALJ, that he had reduced the
number of available positions “approximately 75 percent
and I reduced them based on my experience for the limitation
of a light position that only allows for two hours of
standing in an eight hour day.” (Tr. 63). The ALJ
expressly credited that testimony in his opinion. (Tr. 31)
(“The vocational expert testified that he had reduced
all job numbers noted above by 75% based on his experience to
reflect the limitation in standing and walking to 2
hours.”). The regulations do not require use of the
terms “erosion” or “significance, ”
so long as there is evidence that the ALJ considered the
effect of a claimant's limitations on the relevant
occupational base. Here, the ALJ's actions fully complied
with the regulations and guidelines.
light of my determination that the ALJ appropriately
classified Ms. Jones's RFC assessment to include a
reduced range of light work, I need not consider the issues
relating to her proposed “borderline age range.”
Such findings would be relevant to the outcome of her claims
only if she were to be restricted to a sedentary RFC.
reasons set forth herein, Ms. Jones's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 15) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED. The
Commissioner's judgment is AFFIRMED pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Clerk is directed to
CLOSE this case.
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as