United States District Court, D. Maryland
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge
August 10, 2017, Plaintiff Patricia Lee Fann petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny her claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits. [ECF No. 1]. I have
considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, and Ms. Fann's reply. [ECF Nos. 17, 19, 20]. 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 SSA, and remand the case to the SSA for further analysis
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This
letter explains my rationale.
Fann filed her claim on August 19, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of October 10, 2012. (Tr. 234-42). Her
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr.
87-96, 98-109). A hearing was held on June 30, 2016, before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 38-86).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Fann was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 7-30). The Appeals
Council (“AC”) denied Ms. Fann's request for
review, (Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the
final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Fann suffered from the severe impairments of
“asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(‘COPD'), tobacco abuse, right subdeltoid bursitis,
tendinopathy of the right rotator cuff tendon, cervicalgia,
degenerative changes of the right acromioclavicular
(‘AC') joint, right shoulder impingement syndrome,
and right shoulder adhesive capsulitis.” (Tr. 12-13).
Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Fann
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except
she can occasionally crawl and climb ramps and stairs. She
can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can
frequently balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. She can never
be exposed to unprotected heights. She can be exposed to
humidity, wetness, dust, odors, fumes, pulmonary irritants,
extreme cold, and extreme heat frequently.
(Tr. 16-17). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined alternatively
that Ms. Fann could perform her past relevant work as a
manager, and that she could perform other work existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 23-24).
Therefore, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled. (Tr.
Fann raises two primary arguments on appeal. First, she
argues that the ALJ improperly evaluated Listing 1.04A. Pl.
Mot. 8-19. Second, she contends that the ALJ erred in
considering her RFC assessment by failing to perform an
adequate function-by-function analysis, particularly as to
her capacity to manipulate objects. Id. at 19-22. I
concur that further analysis must be provided as to Listing
1.04. In remanding for further explanation, I express no
opinion as to whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that
Ms. Fann is not entitled to benefits is correct.
with the successful argument, at step three, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Fann's impairments did not meet or
medically equal the severity of any of the listed impairments
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 16). His
decision specifically addressed Listing 1.04A, among several
others. To meet Listing 1.04A, a claimant must have a
disorder of the spine, resulting in compromise of a nerve
root or the spinal cord, with “[e]vidence of nerve root
compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of
pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy
with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness)
accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is
involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising
test (sitting and supine).” 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt.
P, App'x 1 § 1.04A. In his decision, the ALJ simply
The claimant does not meet Listing 1.04A because there is no
objective evidence of sensory or reflex loss. AR 15-1(4). She
testified that she can perform her own personal care, pour
herself a cup of coffee, care for her houseplants, wash
dishes, sweep with a broom, care for her pet birds, brush her
cat, and prepare simple meals. As noted below, she also
drives a car.
must identify the relevant listings and compare each of the
criteria to the evidence of the claimant's symptoms when
there is “ample evidence in the record to support a
determination” that the claimant's impairments meet
or equal a listing. Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168,
1172-73 (4th Cir. 1986). Remand is not warranted “in
those circumstances where it is clear from the record which
listing or listings . . . were considered, ” and the
court can still “readily  determine whether there was
substantial evidence to support the ALJ's Step Three
conclusion.” Schoofield v. Barnhart, 220
F.Supp.2d 512, 522 (D. Md. 2002). In the instant case,
because the ALJ apparently believed that the record contained
ample evidence that Listing 1.04A might be met, he expressly
identified that listing. (Tr. 16).
remainder of the ALJ's analysis, however, is patently
deficient. The ALJ did not cite any medical evidence to
support his step three conclusions, and simply made a
conclusory assertion regarding the absence of evidence to
support just one of several relevant criteria. Ms. Fann cites
to medical evidence she believes establishes that sensory or
reflex loss and the remaining criteria were present. Pl.
Reply 3-10. The SSA asserts that the remaining criteria were
not present. Def. Mot. 10-12. My role is to review the
ALJ's analysis of the issue, not to conduct the analysis
in the first instance. See Fox v. Colvin, 632
Fed.Appx. 750, 755 (4th Cir. 2015) (unpublished) (emphasizing
that it is not this Court's role to “engage in an
analysis that the ALJ should have done in the first instance,
” or “to speculate as to how the ALJ applied the
law to its findings or to hypothesize the ALJ's
justifications that would perhaps find support in the
record”). Here, without any analysis from the ALJ to
suggest whether or how he evaluated the remaining criteria of
Listing 1.04A, I am unable to review whether the ALJ's
conclusions were supported by substantial evidence.
the case is being remanded on other grounds, I need not
address whether the ALJ adequately considered Ms. Fann's
functional ability to perform “the physical
manipulative demands of work.” Pl. Mot. 22. On remand,
the ALJ should review the issue and should determine whether