United States District Court, D. Maryland
Robert E. White
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
29, 2016, Plaintiff Robert White petitioned this Court to
review the Social Security Administration's final
decision to deny his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits
and Supplemental Security Income. (ECF No. 1). I have
considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. (ECF Nos. 13, 14). 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.
White filed claims for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) in March, 2012, alleging a disability
onset date of December 31, 2011. (Tr. 173-86). His claims
were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 106-13,
120-23). A hearing was held on July 30, 2014, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 41-61).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. White was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 17-40). The Appeals
Council denied Mr. White's request for review, (Tr. 1-4),
so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. White suffered from the severe impairments of
“ischemic heart disease, cardiomyopathy, essential
hypertension, obesity, and affective disorder.” (Tr.
22). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr.
White retained the residual functional capacity
perform at the sedentary level as defined in the
Commissioner's regulations, 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a), except the claimant should do no climbing of
ropes/ladders/scaffolds; can perform other postural movements
such as stooping on an occasional basis; should do no work
around dangerous machinery or unprotected heights; and should
avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes and
humidity. Additionally, due to depression, pain, and/or
possible side effects of medication, the claimant is limited
to performing simple instructions (no complex tasks), and due
to concentration/focus problems, the claimant would be off
task 5% of the work day.
(Tr. 25). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. White
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy and that, therefore, he was not disabled.
White's sole argument on appeal is that the ALJ
erroneously assessed his RFC. Pl. Mot. 4-9. Specifically, he
contends that the ALJ failed to explain “the genesis of
his conclusion that although [Mr. White] had moderate
difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or
pace, due to concentration and focus problems, he would be
off task only up to five percent of the workday.”
Id. at 6. Social Security regulations require an ALJ
to include “a narrative discussion of [the]
claimant's symptoms and medical source opinions.”
Thomas v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec., 2011 WL
6130605, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 7, 2011). In doing so, an ALJ
must “build an accurate and logical bridge from the
evidence to his conclusion.” Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000), as amended
(Dec. 13, 2000).
the ALJ failed to provide “an accurate and logical
bridge” between Mr. White's limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace and the ALJ's RFC
determination. Most significantly, in formulating the RFC
assessment, the ALJ noted that “[Mr. White] would be
off task 5% of the work day.” (Tr. 25). The ALJ,
however, provided no support for this conclusion. Notably,
the ALJ found that Mr. White had “moderate
difficulties” in concentration, persistence, or pace.
(Tr. 24). To support his conclusion, the ALJ noted that,
although Mr. White “reported [that] he would be unable
to watch a two hour movie due to his inability to focus and
concentrate, ” “the evidence indicates [he] used
to watch television from 1:00pm through bedtime and that his
physician has agreed to compromise and allow [him] three
hours of television per day.” Id. Later in the
opinion, the ALJ also found that Mr. White was able to
“follow a three-step command, ” and cited Dr.
Taller's determination that “his sustained
concentration was slightly diminished.” (Tr. 31).
However, the ALJ failed to explain how these findings
translate into a finding that Mr. White would be “off
task 5% of the work day.” (Tr. 25). An explanation of
how that percentage was calculated is significant, since a
relatively small increase could preclude competitive
employment. See Schlossnagle v. Colvin, 2016 WL
4077672, at *4 (August 1, 2016) (holding that “being
off task more than 10% of the time during an eight-hour
workday would preclude all competitive employment.”).
Accordingly, without further explanation, I am unable to
ascertain how the ALJ assessed Mr. White's difficulties
in staying on task, and how those difficulties impacted the
RFC assessment. See Chandler v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., No. SAG-15-1408, 2016 WL 750549, at *2 (D. Md.
Feb. 24, 2016) (noting that “[i]t is unclear how the
ALJ reached that particular conclusion, and is also unclear
whether being off task only 5% of the workday is consistent
with a ‘moderate limitation in concentration,
persistence or pace.'”). In light of this
inadequacy, I must remand the case to the Commissioner for
further analysis. On remand, the ALJ should consider the
impact of Mr. White's limitations on the RFC
determination, and explain the reasons for that finding,
citing substantial evidence. In so holding, I express no
opinion regarding whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion
that Mr. White is not disabled is correct or incorrect.
reasons set forth herein, Mr. White's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 13) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) 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 ...