United States District Court, D. Maryland
LETTER TO COUNSEL
Sincerely yours, Stephanie A. Gallagher United States
October 31, 2017, Plaintiff Jennifer Carlisle petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny her claim
for Supplemental Security Income. [ECF No. 1]. I have
considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, and Ms. Carlisle's reply. [ECF Nos. 13, 14,
15]. I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc.
R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This Court must uphold the decision
of the SSA if it is supported by substantial evidence and if
the SSA 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.
Carlisle filed her claim for benefits on May 28, 2014,
alleging a disability onset date of August 15,
2005. (Tr. 182-87). Her claim was
denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 70-99, 101-15).
A hearing was held on October 4, 2016, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 47-69).
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Carlisle
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 23-41). The Appeals
Council (“AC”) denied Ms. Carlisle's request
for further review, (Tr. 1-7), so the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Ms. Carlisle suffered from the severe impairments
of “asthma; obesity; borderline intellectual
functioning; learning disorder; and major depressive disorder
with psychotic and anxious features.” (Tr. 25). Despite
these impairments, the ALJ determined that Ms. Carlisle would
retain the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), which
generally involves lifting/carrying 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently, standing/walking about 6 hours, and
sitting about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She cannot climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but can perform other postural
maneuvers, like balancing and stooping, on a less frequent
basis. The claimant is able to perform simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks that do not involve strict production
quotas; sustain attention toward such tasks for 2-hour
segments, with no social limitations; and respond
appropriately to infrequent and gradual change in a routine
(Tr. 28). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms.
Carlisle could perform her past relevant work as a
receptionist, telemarketer, and cashier, or, alternatively,
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Tr. 39-40). The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Ms.
Carlisle was not disabled. (Tr. 41).
Carlisle argues on appeal: (1) that the ALJ assigned
insufficient weight to the opinions of a consultative
examiner, Dr. Michael Motter, and to the opinions of her
treating nurse practitioner and licensed clinical social
worker; and (2) that the ALJ did not consider evidence
regarding her supportive living environment. I agree that the
ALJ's analysis is flawed, and I therefore recommend
an ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence in
the record, SSR 96-8P requires an ALJ to consider a
claimant's need for a structured living environment when
assessing the claimant's RFC. SSR 96-8P, 1996 WL 374184,
at *5 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). In this case, the record
reflects that Ms. Carlisle received daily assistance from
Archway Station Inc.'s Supported Housing Program for
adults with psychiatric disabilities from September, 2012,
and that she was authorized for services through October,
2016. (Tr. 829-51). Those services included reminding Ms.
Carlisle to shower and to change her clothing every few days,
and encouraging her to leave her home to attend Archway
programs. Id. Here, the ALJ made no reference to the
records provided by the Archway program, which corroborated,
to some degree, some of the statements made by Ms.
Carlisle's mother, Terry Carlisle. (Tr. 38).
consideration of the supportive living arrangement might have
altered the ALJ's assignment of weight to the various
medical sources in this case. The ALJ's own review of the
medical evidence documents a distinct worsening of Ms.
Carlisle's symptoms in late 2015 and early 2016,
resulting in a number of emergency room visits and multiple
voluntary hospitalizations. (Tr. 33-34). The medical notes
from later in 2016, while showing some improvement from the
immediately preceding period, continue to reflect
hallucinations. (Tr. 34). The ALJ concluded:
“Ultimately, except for a few voluntary inpatient
hospitalizations in 2016, the medical record indicates that
the claimant's treatment for her mental symptoms has been
conservative.” Id. However, it would not be
unreasonable to suggest that a “few voluntary inpatient
hospitalizations” within a twelve-month period could
affect a claimant's ability to work. Ultimately, the
problem is that the ALJ's RFC assessment is essentially
premised on the opinions of two non-examining State agency
physicians rendered in 2014 and early 2015, before the
significant period of worsening symptoms in late 2015 into
2016. In light of the Archway evidence (primarily from 2016)
that was not considered by the ALJ, and all of the medical
evidence that was not able to be considered by the
non-examining State agency physicians, the ALJ has not built
“an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to
his conclusion” that Ms. Carlisle could work. Lewis
v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 868 (4th Cir. 2017)
(citation omitted). Thus, additional evaluation is warranted
to determine whether the changes to Ms. Carlisle's mental
state in 2016 affected either the ALJ's RFC determination
of “no social limitations, ” or any other aspect
of Ms. Carlisle's functional capacity.
light of this inadequacy, I must remand the case to the SSA
for further analysis. On remand, the ALJ should consider Ms.
Carlisle's supportive living situation and should
determine whether it affects his assessment of the other
evidence of record, including the statements from Terry
Carlisle and the opinions of Dr. Motter and the treating
medical sources. In remanding for additional explanation, I
express no opinion as to whether the ALJ's ultimate
conclusion that Ms. Carlisle is not entitled to benefits is
reasons set forth above, Plaintiff'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 SSA'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