United States District Court, D. Maryland
August 29, 2017, Plaintiff Nancy Turner petitioned this Court
to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny her claims
for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income. (ECF No. 1). I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 12, 17). 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.
Turner filed her claims for benefits in July, 2014, alleging
a disability onset date of April 1, 2012. (Tr.
220-31). Her claims were denied initially and on
reconsideration. (Tr. 84-97, 100-19). A hearing was held on
January 5, 2017, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 48-67). Following the hearing, the
ALJ determined that Ms. Turner was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time
frame. (Tr. 34-42). The Appeals Council (“AC”)
denied Ms. Turner's request for further review, (Tr.
1-5), so the ALJ's decision constitutes the final,
reviewable decision of the SSA.
found that Ms. Turner suffered from the severe impairments of
“bilateral shoulder disorder, back disorder, and neck
disorder.” (Tr. 36). Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Turner would retain the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b), provided it does not require the performance of
more than occasional postural activity, occasional overhead
reaching with the right dominant upper extremity; and
occasional reaching in all directions with the left
nondominant upper extremity.
(Tr. 38). After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Turner
could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, specifically “information clerk,
” “clerical checker, ” and “office
helper.” (Tr. 41-42). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
she was not disabled. (Tr. 42).
Turner makes two primary arguments on appeal:
(1) that the ALJ's evaluation of her
ability to reach was deficient; and (2) that the ALJ did not
adequately assess her subjective complaints of pain. I agree
with the first argument, and I therefore remand the case for
further analysis. In ordering remand, I express no opinion as
to whether the ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Ms. Turner
was not entitled to benefits is correct.
RFC assessment, the ALJ found, in relevant part, that Ms.
Turner could perform work that did not require “the
performance of more than . . . occasional overhead reaching
with the right dominant upper extremity; and occasional
reaching in all directions with the left nondominant upper
extremity.” (Tr. 38). Each of the three jobs identified
by the VE requires “frequent” reaching, (ECF No.
12-2, to -4), so the VE apparently relied upon the fact that,
other than the limitation on “overhead reaching,
” Ms. Turner would be able to frequently reach with her
right dominant arm.
medical opinions discussed by the ALJ, however, all suggested
additional right-sided reaching limitations. The
non-examining State agency physician stated that Ms. Turner
would be limited in reaching, on the right side, “in
front and/or laterally.” (Tr. 106-07, 116-17). Oddly,
in evaluating that opinion, the ALJ expressly stated that he
“gives great weight to the limited light exertional
findings, and limits in overhead, front, and lateral
reaching.” (Tr. 40). However, the ALJ then imposed
limits in front and lateral reaching only as to the left arm,
without explanation as to why he rejected any such limits for
the right side. Also, in contrast to the ALJ's finding,
the consultative examiner, Dr. Montemayor, found right-sided
reaching limitations only, and did not differentiate between
overhead and other reaching. (Tr. 345) (“There are
manipulative limitations on the right side only with reaching
and the claimant will be able to perform this occasionally
due to right shoulder and decreased range of motion.”).
The ALJ also assigned “significant weight” to Dr.
Montemayor's functional limitations. (Tr. 40).
provided no explanation for his rejection of the right-sided
reaching limitations found by the non-examining State agency
physician and Dr. Montemayor, other than an unexplained
assertion that the determination was “consistent with
her recent surgery and follow up with physical therapy,
” and consistent with her role as a deacon in her
church. (Tr. 40). However, Ms. Turner's most recent
surgery was on her left shoulder on March 22, 2016. (Tr.
428). The ALJ did not discuss or cite to any medical records
from those treatments that address or undermine the
right-sided reaching limitations found by State agency
physician and Dr. Montemayor. Moreover, nothing about Ms.
Turner's part-time, unpaid position as deacon at her
church suggests a greater ability for frequent front and
lateral reaching on the right side. (Tr. 53) (testimony that
her work as a deacon consists of reading the bible,
preaching, and delivering communion to the elderly one Sunday
light of my determination that the ALJ's reaching
analysis was insufficient, I need not address the argument
that the ALJ erred by failing to credit Ms. Turner's
subjective assertions of disabling pain. I note that the
ALJ's discussion focused heavily on the objective
findings from physical examinations, largely to the exclusion
of subjective statements by Ms. Turner or other evidence that
may undermine Ms. Turner's allegations. On remand, the
ALJ may wish to provide more explanation to support his
evaluation of Ms. Turner's subjective assertions of pain.
reasons set forth above, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 12) is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17) 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