United States District Court, D. Maryland
26, 2017, the Plaintiff, Eugene Barber (“Mr.
Barber”), petitioned this Court to review the Social
Security Administration's final decision to deny his
claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”)
and supplemental security income (“SSI”). (ECF
No. 1.) The parties have filed cross-motions for summary
judgment. (ECF Nos. 18 & 19.) These motions have been
referred to the undersigned with the parties' consent
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule
I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R.
105.6. This Court must uphold the decision of the agency if
it is supported by substantial evidence and if the agency
employed the proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(3); Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632,
634 (4th Cir. 2015). Following its review, this Court may
affirm, modify, or reverse the Commissioner, with or without
a remand. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Melkonyan
v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89 (1991). Under that standard, I
will deny Mr. Barber's motion and grant the Acting
Commissioner's motion. This letter explains my rationale.
applications for DIB and SSI, Mr. Barber alleged a disability
onset date of October 8, 2013. (Tr. 15.) His applications
were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 126-28,
138-39, 140-41.) A hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 18, 2016, and the ALJ
found that Mr. Barber was not disabled under the Social
Security Act. (Tr. 15-29, 34-93.) The Appeals Council denied
Mr. Barber's request for review (Tr. 1-3), making the
ALJ's decision the final, reviewable decision of the
evaluated Mr. Barber's claim for benefits using the
five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ
found that Mr. Barber was not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, and had not been engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 8, 2013. (Tr. 18.) At step two, the
ALJ found that Mr. Barber suffered from the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
remote injury to the right foot with residual right-foot
drop, and remote injury to the left thumb. (Id.) At
step three, the ALJ found that Mr. Barber's impairments,
separately and in combination, failed to meet or equal in
severity any listed impairment as set forth in 20 C.F.R.,
Chapter III, Pt. 404, Subpart P, App. 1
(“Listings”). (Tr. 20.) The ALJ determined that
Mr. Barber retained the RFC
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except the claimant can sit for 6 hours and stand
for 4 hours with a break after 2 hours for 15-minutes, during
which time he would be productive in a seated position. The
claimant can walk for one block, or 325 feet before needing a
break of 5-minutes. The claimant can never operate foot
controls with his right leg and can never use his left thumb.
He is left-hand dominant. He can occasionally climb ramps or
stairs, crouch, crawl, stoop, and kneel. He can frequently
balance. He can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He
can occasionally be exposed to unprotected heights or
vibration. He can occasionally handle, finger, and feel with
his left-dominant hand. He can never operate a motor vehicle.
four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Barber was unable to
perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 27.) At step five,
relying on the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ determined that there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Mr. Barber can perform, including information clerk,
interviewer, production inspector, and film cutter. (Tr.
28-29.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Mr. Barber was not
disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 29.)
Barber raises two arguments in this appeal. First, he argues
that the ALJ did not “properly categorize [his] RFC for
the purpose of considering the Medical-Vocational Guidelines,
and subsequently failed to use the proper Guidelines as a
framework for decision-making.” (ECF No. 18-1 at 9.)
Second, he argues that the ALJ did not properly consider his
“decreased occupational base when determining whether
there were jobs available to him in significant
numbers.” (Id. at 13.)
Barber argues that the ALJ did not properly characterize his
RFC for the purpose of considering the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines. (Id. at 9-13.) He contends that because
the ALJ's RFC determination fell between the “light
work” and “sedentary work” classifications,
the ALJ should have classified his ability to perform work at
the sedentary work level instead of the light work
level. Had the ALJ classified his RFC at the
sedentary work level, he argues, the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, Appendix 2, would
have directed a finding that Mr. Barber is disabled. (ECF No.
18-1 at 11.) However, an ALJ “may rely on the
[Medical-Vocational Guidelines] only in appropriate
cases.” Golini v. Astrue, 483 Fed.Appx. 806,
808 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). In
general, an ALJ may not rely on the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines when a claimant's RFC “falls between the
exertional categories upon which the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines rely.” Id. According to SSR 83-12,
when an “individual's exertional limitations are
somewhere ‘in the middle' in terms of the
regulatory criteria for exertional ranges of work, more
difficult judgments 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.” SSR 83-12, 1983 WL 31253 (S.S.A.
the ALJ properly determined that Mr. Barber's RFC fell
between the sedentary and light work levels. (Tr. 28.) As
advised by SSR 83-12, the ALJ sought evidence from a VE to
determine whether there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Mr. Barber can perform.
See, e.g. Jones v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin, No.
SAG-16-936, 2017 WL 627383, at * 2-3 (D. Md. Feb. 15, 2017)
(noting that where a claimant's exertional limitations
fell between light work and sedentary work, the ALJ
appropriately consulted with the VE); Bester v.
Berryhill, No. TMD-15-3262, 2017 WL 1207539, at *8 (D.
Md. Mar. 31, 2017) (same); Neal v. Astrue, No.
JKS-09-2316, 2010 WL 1759582, at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 29, 2010)
(same). Accordingly, Mr. Barber's argument that the ALJ
misclassified his exertional range is without merit.
alternative, Mr. Barber argues that the ALJ failed to
consider his decreased occupational base at step five when
determining whether there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that he can perform. (ECF No.
18-1 at 13-15.) Specifically, he argues that the “ALJ
failed to elicit an adequate explanation from the VE as to
why the Plaintiff was able to perform the jobs identified at
the light exertional level in light of his eroded vocational
base.” (Id. at 14.)
may consider the testimony of VEs to determine whether there
is work available in the national economy that the claimant
can perform. Walker v. Bowen, 889 F.2d 47, 50 (4th
Cir. 1989). “In order for a [VE's] opinion to be
relevant or helpful, it must be based upon a consideration of
all other evidence in the record, and it must be in response
to proper hypothetical questions which fairly set out all of
claimant's impairments.” Hines v.
Barnhart, 453 F.3d 559, 566 (4th Cir. 2006); see
also Reynolds v. Astrue, No. SKG-11-559, 2012 WL
1107649, at *21 (D. Md. Mar. 30, 2012) (“[T]he
important issue is not whether the ALJ's written opinion
ultimately classified Plaintiff's RFC abilities and
limitations as light or sedentary- rather, the crucial issue
is that the ALJ asked the VE to consider all of
Plaintiff's RFC abilities and limitations, and the VE
opined that there are jobs that Plaintiff could
perform.” (emphasis omitted)).
the ALJ asked the VE to consider a hypothetical individual
with limitations and abilities identical to those of Mr.
Barber. The VE testified that such an individual could
perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. Because the ALJ's hypothetical
questions accounted for all of Mr. Barber's functional
limitations, the questions were proper. See Fisher v.
Barnhart, 181 F. App'x. 359, 364 (4th Cir. 2006)
(per curiam) (noting that a hypothetical question is
unimpeachable if it adequately reflects a “residual
functional capacity for which the ALJ had sufficient
evidence” (quoting Johnson v. Barnhart, 434
F.3d 650, 659 (4th Cir. 2005)). The ALJ properly credited the
VE's testimony on this point and concluded that Mr.
Barber was not disabled. By doing so, the ALJ accounted for Mr.
Barber's decreased occupational base below the level of
reasons set forth herein, Mr. Barber's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No.18) will be DENIED, and the
Acting Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No.19) will be GRANTED. The Clerk is
directed to CLOSE this case. Despite the
informal nature ...