United States District Court, D. Maryland
Montgomery J. Carter
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
August 15, 2017, Plaintiff Montgomery J. Carter petitioned
this Court to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny his claims
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). [ECF No.
1]. Mr. Carter is representing himself in this Court pro
se, although he had an attorney throughout the
administrative proceedings. I have considered the
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, and Mr.
Carter's belated surreply. [ECF Nos. 24, 26, 31]. 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 SSA's decision, and remand
the case to the SSA for further consideration. This letter
explains my rationale.
Carter protectively filed his claims for DIB and SSI on March
16, 2011. (Tr. 296-309). He alleged a disability onset date
of August 20, 2006. Id. His claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 150-65). A hearing was
held on June 7, 2013, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 69-100). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Carter was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 125-43). Upon review, the Appeals Council
remanded the case to the ALJ for further consideration. (Tr.
144-49). A second hearing before the ALJ took place on June
11, 2015. (Tr. 40-68). After that hearing, the ALJ again
issued an opinion denying benefits. (Tr. 17-39). This time,
the Appeals Council denied Mr. Carter's request for
review, (Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's 2015 decision constitutes
the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
opinion, the ALJ found that Mr. Carter suffered from the
severe impairments of “degenerative disc disease of the
cervical and lumbosacral spine with associated pain, an
affective disorder variously described as a major depressive
disorder, adjustment disorder and bipolar disorder, a
generalized anxiety disorder with recent references to panic
attacks and agoraphobia, alcohol dependence and borderline
intellectual functioning.” (Tr. 20). Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Mr. Carter retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”):
to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
and 416.967(a) except that he can sit six hours, walk three
hours, and lift/carry five pounds frequently and ten pounds
occasionally. He must be able to alternate sitting and
standing two minutes in place each hour. He cannot climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, bend, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He
can perform simple, routine tasks, but would be off task ten
percent of the time and miss ten days of work per year. He
can occasionally interact with the public, peers and
(Tr. 22-23). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr. Carter
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, and that, therefore, he was not disabled.
Carter makes a series of arguments on appeal. After a careful
review of the record, I am persuaded that the ALJ's RFC
assessment of Mr. Carter's mental limitations lacks a
sufficient explanation for the conclusion regarding his
ability to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace.
See Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 638 (4th Cir.
2015) (remanding case where ALJ failed to explain the basis
behind findings about claimant's ability to perform
relevant functions); Chandler v. Colvin, Civil No.
SAG-15-1408, 2016 WL 75049, at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 24, 2016)
(remanding case where ALJ failed to adequately explain
findings as to claimant's mental limitations and its
relation to claimant's moderate limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace).
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., Civil No. SAG-10-1828, 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).
Here, the ALJ failed to provide “an accurate and
logical bridge” between Mr. Carter's mental
limitations and the ALJ's RFC determination. The ALJ made
a specific finding that Mr. Carter suffered “moderate
difficulties” in concentration, persistence, or pace.
(Tr. 22). However, in formulating the RFC assessment, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Carter “would be off task ten
percent of the time and miss ten days of work per
year.” (Tr. 23). The ALJ failed to explain the basis
for that conclusion. The precise determination is important
because the VE testified in this case that a person who would
be off task for 15% of the workday, or would miss 2 days of
work per month on a consistent basis, would not be able to
maintain employment. (Tr. 66-67). The ALJ did not explain,
and cited to no medical evidence suggesting, the conclusion
that Mr. Carter would be off task 10%, rather than 12% or
15%, of the time. An explanation of how that percentage was
calculated is significant, since a relatively insignificant
increase could preclude competitive employment. The same
analysis can be applied to the ALJ's unexplained
conclusion that Mr. Carter would “miss ten days of work
per year.” (Tr. 29).
without further explanation, I am unable to ascertain how the
ALJ assessed Mr. Carter's mental limitations, and how
those difficulties impacted the RFC assessment. In light of
this inadequacy, I must remand the case to the SSA for
further analysis. On remand, the ALJ should consider the
impact of Mr. Carter's limitations on the RFC
determination, and should explain the reasons for that
finding, citing substantial evidence. In remanding, I express
no opinion as to whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion
that Mr. Carter is not entitled to benefits is correct.
Carter, in conjunction with his motion for summary judgment,
submitted relatively extensive medical records. [ECF No. 24].
Many of those records post-dated the ALJ's July, 2015
opinion and therefore were not available to the ALJ before
that opinion was drafted. On remand, the ALJ will have the
opportunity to consider any of the records relevant to the
Carter also asked this Court to make a finding of disability
instead of remanding the case to the SSA. Pl. Mot. 9. If as
here, the issue is that the reviewing court has no way of
evaluating the basis for the ALJ's decision, then
“the proper course, except in rare circumstances, is to
remand to the agency for additional investigation or
explanation.” Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288,
295 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Florida Power & Light Co.
v. Lorion, 470 U.S. 729, 744 (1985)). This Court is not
typically the appropriate entity to determine whether or not
an individual is disabled. Accordingly, remand is warranted.
reasons set forth above, Mr. Carter's Motion for
Declaratory Judgment/Writ of Mandamus, (ECF No. 2), and
Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 24), are DENIED, and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 26), is
also DENIED. Pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), the SSA's judgment is REVERSED due to inadequate
analysis. The case is REMANDED for further proceedings in
accordance with this opinion. The Clerk is directed to CLOSE
the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as