United States District Court, D. Maryland
13, 2017, Plaintiff Gary Vincent Orangio petitioned this
Court to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny his claim
for Supplemental Security Income. [ECF No. 1]. I have
considered the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, and Mr. Orangio's reply. [ECF Nos. 16, 22, 27].
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.
Orangio filed his claim for benefits on September 27, 2013,
and eventually amended his alleged onset date to June 1,
2014. (Tr. 41-42, 251-59). His claim was denied
initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 150-53, 158-59). After
a continuance to allow Mr. Orangio to find counsel, a hearing
was held on June 24, 2016, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 38-90). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Mr. Orangio was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 21-32). The Appeals Council (“AC”)
denied Mr. Orangio's request for further review, (Tr.
1-7), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the Agency.
found that Mr. Orangio suffered from the severe impairments
of “degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine;
organic mental disorder; bipolar disorder; and anxiety
disorder.” (Tr. 24). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Mr. Orangio would retain the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant can lift ten pounds
frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. The claimant can
stand/walk six hours in an eight-hour day. The claimant can
sit six hours in an eight-hour day. The claimant can
frequently climb rams [sic] and stairs and never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds and occasionally crawl. The
claimant is limited to frequent handling and fingering with
the right upper extremity. The claimant must avoid
concentrated exposure to vibration. The claimant is limited
to simple, repetitive tasks and casual and infrequent contact
with co-workers and supervisors in a non-public work setting.
(Tr. 26). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Mr.
Orangio could perform several jobs existing in the national
economy and that, therefore, he was not disabled. (Tr.
Orangio makes two arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ's
analysis of Listing 1.04A was deficient; and (2) that the
ALJ's RFC assessment was flawed and runs afoul of the
Fourth Circuit's decision in Mascio v. Colvin,
780 F.3d 632, 638 (4th Cir. 2015). I agree.
at step three, the ALJ determined that Mr. Orangio'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. 24-25). His decision specifically
addressed Listing 1.04A, among several others. Id.
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 stated:
In regards to listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine), there is
no evidence of nerve root compression, which has resulted in
motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness) and
sensory or reflex loss. There is no evidence of spinal
arachnoiditis or lumbar spinal stenosis that has resulted in
the inability to ambulate effectively.
(Tr. 24). An ALJ 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. 24).
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
conclusory assertions regarding the absence of evidence to
support several of the relevant criteria. Mr. Orangio cites
to medical evidence he believes establishes that each of the
criteria was present, Pl. Mot. 12-15, and the SSA contends
that the evidence supports the absence of some or all of the
criteria. Def. Mot. 7-9. However, 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 medical record
against the criteria of Listing 1.04A, I am unable to review
whether the ALJ's conclusions were supported by
in Mascio, the United States Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit determined that remand was appropriate for
three distinct reasons, including, as pertinent to this case,
the inadequacy of the ALJ's evaluation of “moderate
difficulties” in concentration, persistence, or pace.
780 F.3d at 638. At step three of the sequential evaluation,
the ALJ determines whether a claimant's impairments meet
or medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Listings 12.00 et
seq. pertain to mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App'x 1 § 12.00. The relevant listings
therein consist of: (1) a brief statement describing a
subject disorder; (2) “paragraph A criteria, ”
which consists of a set of medical findings; and (3)
“paragraph B criteria, ” which consists of a set
of impairment-related functional limitations. Id.
§ 12.00(A). If both the paragraph A criteria and the
paragraph B criteria are satisfied, the ALJ will determine
that the claimant meets the listed impairment. Id.
B consists of four broad functional areas: (1) activities of
daily living; (2) social functioning; (3) concentration,
persistence, or pace; and (4) episodes of decompensation. The
ALJ employs the “special technique” to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in each area, based on
the extent to which the claimant's impairment
“interferes with [the claimant's] ability to
function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a
sustained basis.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1620a(c)(2). The
ALJ uses a five-point scale to rate a claimant's degree
of limitation in the first three areas: none, mild, moderate,
marked, or extreme. Id. § 404.1620a(c)(4). In
order to satisfy paragraph B, a claimant must exhibit either
“marked” limitations in two of the first three
areas, or “marked” limitation in one of the first
three areas with repeated episodes of decompensation.
See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1
§ 12.02. Marked limitations “may arise when
several activities or functions are impaired, or even when
only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is
such as to interfere seriously with [the claimant's]
ability to function.” Id. § 12.00(C).
functional area of “concentration, persistence, or pace
refers to the ability to sustain focused attention and
concentration sufficiently long to permit the timely and
appropriate completion of tasks commonly found in work
settings.” Id. § 12.00(C)(3). Social
Security regulations do not define limitations in
concentration, persistence, or pace “by a specific
number of tasks that [a claimant is] unable to