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
Plaintiff's reply. [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. 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 pursuant to
sentence four, and that the case be remanded to the
Commissioner for further proceedings in accordance with this
Report and Recommendations.
Young filed her applications for Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on August 29, 2012, alleging that her
disability began on July 27, 2012. (Tr. 179-89). Her
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration.
(Tr. 75-83, 85-93, 95-105, 107-17). An Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on October 29, 2014,
at which Ms. Young testified and was represented by counsel.
(Tr. 37-73). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Young was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 24-31). The
Appeals Council denied Ms. Young's request for review,
(Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Young suffered from the severe impairments of
“lupus, nephrotic syndrome, and obesity.” (Tr.
27). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms.
Young retained the residual functional capacity
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she can do no more than occasional climbing
of ramps and stairs; she can never climb ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; she can do frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling; and she is limited to routine,
repetitive, and unskilled tasks.
Id. After considering testimony from a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Young
could perform her past relevant work “as a dining room
attendant and custodian, ” and that, therefore, she was
not disabled. (Tr. 30).
Young raises several arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ
exceeded his authority by rejecting the results of the
intellectual testing; (2) that the ALJ failed to consider her
intellectual limitations; (3) that the ALJ failed to consider
Listing 12.05C; (4) that the ALJ improperly calculated her
prior performance of substantial gainful activity
(“SGA”); (5) that the ALJ failed to consider the
circumstances of her prior and ongoing employment; and (6)
that the ALJ failed to consider all of the mental opinion
evidence. I concur that the ALJ's analysis is deficient
in several ways, and therefore recommend remand. In so
recommending, I express no opinion regarding whether the
ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Ms. Young is not entitled
to benefits is correct or incorrect.
Ms. Young's attorney expressly argued, in a brief filed
before the hearing, that Ms. Young met the qualifications of
Listing 12.05C. That Listing requires “[s]ignificantly
subaverage general intellectual functioning with deficits in
adaptive functioning that initially manifested during the
developmental period.” See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.05. In addition, a claimant must
show “that she has a valid verbal, performance, or full
scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental
impairment that imposes an additional and significant
work-related limitation of function.” See Id.
it is worth noting that the ALJ included almost no discussion
of Ms. Young's intellectual limitations in the opinion.
The ALJ acknowledged “a consultative examination with
Sara Phillips, Ph.D. on October 25, 2014, ” and
confirmed that Dr. Phillips diagnosed “learning
disability, with intelligence scores placing her in the mild
range of mental deficiency through the borderline range of
functioning.” (Tr. 27). The ALJ, however, deemed Ms.
Young's intellectual limitations non-severe, because
“the record contains no other notes of mental health
treatment, and the claimant was intelligent enough to work,
often at substantial gainful activity levels.”
Id. That determination is based upon faulty
criteria, because (1) there would be no reason for mental
health treatment to address intellectual limitations, and (2)
all of Ms. Young's work experience was through CHIMES, a
well-known organization dedicated to providing work
opportunities for people with disabilities. Thus, the
ALJ's conclusion that Ms. Young's intellectual
limitations are non-severe is not supported by substantial
conceding that Ms. Young has both the requisite IQ score and
the “physical or other mental impairment” to
satisfy Listing 12.05C, the Commissioner argues that Ms.
Young did not adduce ample evidence of “deficits in
adaptive functioning that initially manifested during the
developmental period.” Def. Mot. 12-13. However, the
record contains ample evidence of Ms. Young's need for
special education classes in school, in addition to her work
in the highly supported and structured environment at CHIMES.
See, e.g., (Tr. 50) (hearing testimony that she was
in special education classes from third grade through high
school). Accordingly, given ample evidence that the criteria
of the Listing may be met, the ALJ erred in failing to
identify and evaluate Listing 12.05C.
the ALJ's evaluation of Ms. Young's existing
part-time employment is unpersuasive. The ALJ asserts that,
with her existing part-time schedule, Ms. Young's wages
exceeded the level for SGA for one quarter during each
calendar year. (Tr. 26). The ALJ then posits, “Her work
demonstrates an ability to perform substantial gainful
activity on a full time basis.” (Tr. 27). The ALJ does
not explain why an ability to work three days per week
demonstrates an ability to work full time, in light of Ms.
Young's physical diagnoses.
in making the determination that Ms. Young is capable of her
past relevant work, the ALJ did not consider whether or not
that work is “done under special conditions.”
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1573(c) (“If your
work is done under special conditions, we may find that it
does not show that you have the ability to do substantial
gainful activity.”). The work environment at CHIMES
should have been reviewed to determine whether it met the
criteria for special conditions.
are many other errors alleged or evident in the ALJ's
opinion, including the failure to average employment quarters
to calculate SGA at Step One, the apparent failure to
consider Ms. Young's diagnosis of “poorly
controlled diabetes” and to determine whether it is a
severe impairment, and the failure to assign weight to Dr.
Robbins's medical opinion. Because I am recommending
remand, I further ...