United States District Court, D. Maryland
August 25, 2017, Plaintiff Jennifer Lynn Overman (“Ms.
Overman”) petitioned this Court to review the Social
Security Administration's final decision to deny her
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. 17 & 18.) 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 Acting 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 both motions and remand the case
for further proceedings. This letter explains my rationale.
applications for disability benefits, Ms. Overman alleged
disability beginning on February 1, 2011, for her SSI claim
(Tr. 216) and on October 10, 2013, for her DIB claim (Tr.
209, 240, 245). Her applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 139-56.) A hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 20,
2016, (Tr. 41-86), and the ALJ found that Ms. Overman was not
disabled under the Social Security Act (Tr. 20-35). The
Appeals Council denied Ms. Overman's request for review
(Tr. 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the final,
reviewable decision of the agency.
evaluated Ms. Overman'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 Ms. Overman was not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, and had not been engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 10, 2013. (Tr. 22.) At step two, the
ALJ found that Ms. Overman suffered from the severe
impairments of bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. (Tr.
23- 24.) At step three, the ALJ found that Ms.
Overman'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. 24-26.) The ALJ determined
that Ms. Overman retained the RFC
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: simple, routine
tasks not at a production pace. Simple work-related decisions
in a “low stress” environment. Limited to
communicating simple information. Occasional contact with
supervisors and co-workers. She can never interact with the
public. She would be off-task 10 percent of the workday.
four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Overman was unable to
perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 32-33.) At step five,
relying on the testimony of a vocational expert and
considering Ms. Overman's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she
can perform, including janitor, housekeeper, and inspector.
(Tr. 34.) Therefore, the ALJ found that Ms. Overman was not
disabled under the Social Security Act. (Tr. 35.)
Overman raises two arguments in this appeal. First, she
argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported
by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 17-1 at 9-11.) Second, she
argues that the ALJ posed an inadequate hypothetical to the
vocational expert. (Id. at 12-16.) After a careful
review of the ALJ's decision and the evidence in the
record, I find that the ALJ did not provide an adequate
explanation for the RFC finding that Ms. Overman would be
“off-task 10 percent of the workday.” (Tr. 27.)
Because the ALJ did not adequately explain this very specific
conclusion, the findings made in reliance on the RFC cannot
be said to be based on substantial evidence. I decline to
address Ms. Overman's second argument.
Overman argues that the ALJ “erroneously assessed [her]
RFC contrary to Social Security Ruling (“SSR”)
96-8p (July 2, 1996) by failing to conduct a
function-by-function assessment of her ability to perform the
physical and mental demands of work.” (ECF No. 17-1 at
9.) Specifically, Ms. Overman argues that the ALJ “did
not explain his finding that [she] would be ‘off-task
10 percent of the workday.'” (Id.) The
Acting Commissioner argues that there is substantial evidence
“support[ing] the ALJ's overall assessment that
limitations in [her] ability to stay on task would not
prevent her from working.” (ECF No. 18-1 at 5.)
Security Ruling 96-8p instructs that an “RFC assessment
must first identify the individual's functional
limitations or restrictions and assess his or her
work-related abilities on a function-by-function basis,
including the functions” listed in the regulations. SSR
96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). Further,
the “RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion
describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing
specific medical facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and
nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities,
observations).” Id. at *7. An ALJ must
“both identify evidence that supports his conclusion
and build an accurate and logical bridge from [that] evidence
to his conclusion.” Woods v. Berryhill, 888
F.3d 686, 694 (4th Cir. 2018) (emphasis omitted).
the ALJ failed to provide an “accurate and logical
bridge” between Ms. Overman's mental limitations
and the RFC determination. As part of the RFC assessment, the
ALJ found that Ms. Overman would be “off-task 10
percent of the workday.” (Tr. 27.) The ALJ did not
explain the basis for this conclusion. While the ALJ detailed
a number of findings related to Ms. Overman's moderate
difficulties in concentration, persistence, and pace, the ALJ
did not explain why or how the percentage of time off-task
was calculated. This is important because the vocational
expert testified that if a hypothetical individual with
abilities matching those of Ms. Overman was off-task 15
percent of the time or more, they would be “incapable
of maintaining the job.” (Tr. 83.) “An
explanation of how the percentage of time off-task was
calculated is significant, since a relatively small increase
could preclude competitive employment.” Fisher v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec., No. RDB-17-3165, 2018 WL 3348858,
at *3 (D. Md. July 9, 2018). Here, the difference between Ms.
Overman being off-task 15 percent of the workday (instead of
10 percent) would have been dispositive to a finding of
disability, at least to the extent that the ALJ relied on the
vocational expert's testimony. Because the ALJ did not
adequately explain the reason for the finding that Ms.
Overman would be “off-task 10 percent of the workday,
” this Court is unable to meaningfully review the
ALJ's decision. For this reason, remand is appropriate.
The Court makes no finding as to the merits of the ALJ's
ultimate conclusion that Ms. Overman is not disabled.
reasons set forth herein, both parties' motions for
summary judgment (ECF Nos. 17 & 18) are
DENIED. Pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), the Acting Commissioner'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