United States District Court, D. Maryland
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY
AMENDED REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.
to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-captioned case has been
referred to me to review the parties' dispositive motions
and to make recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 301.5(b)(ix). ECF 5. I issued a
Report and Recommendations on February 25, 2019. ECF 15. On
March 11, 2019, the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) filed an Objection to the Report and
Recommendations. ECF 16. Judge Chuang then recommitted the
matter to me with instructions to consider the objection, and
to make any changes required. ECF 17. This Amended Report and
Recommendations supersedes the original Report and
Recommendations. I have now considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment, Plaintiff's reply,
and the SSA's Objection to the Report and Recommendation.
ECF 10, 13, 14, 16. I find that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). This Court must
uphold the decision of the SSA if it is supported by
substantial evidence and if the SSA employed proper legal
standards. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3);
Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996);
Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987).
For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the Court
deny both motions, reverse the SSA's decision in part,
and remand the case to the SSA for further proceedings in
accordance with this Amended Report and Recommendations.
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
on August 12, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of
January 27, 2014. Tr. 123-26. His application was denied
initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 64-67, 69-70. An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
on March 21, 2017, at which Plaintiff was accompanied by a
non-attorney representative. Tr. 24-42. Following the
hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. 12-18. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for further
review, Tr. 1-5, so the ALJ's decision constitutes the
final, reviewable decision of the SSA.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“post laminectomy syndrome; radiculopathy; degenerative
disc disease (DDD); pseudoarthrosis; and cervicalgia.”
Tr. 14. Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform less than a full range of sedentary work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). The claimant has to avoid lifting and
carrying below waist level. The claimant has to avoid
crawling, crouching, kneeling and climbing ladders, ropes,
and scaffolds, but he can stoop on an occasional basis. The
claimant has to avoid constant reaching. The claimant has to
avoid working around hazards such as moving dangerous
machinery and unprotected heights.
After considering the testimony of a vocational expert, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing his past
relevant work as a systems analyst. Tr. 18. Therefore, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id.
appeal, Plaintiff's argument is essentially that the ALJ
failed to consider Plaintiff's non-exertional limitations
caused by the side effects he experienced from his prescribed
medications, which include drowsiness, grogginess,
forgetfulness, and difficulty with concentration. ECF 10 at
10-15; ECF 14 at 2-4. I agree that the ALJ's RFC analysis
was inadequate and, therefore, I recommend remand. In so
recommending, I express no opinion as to whether the
ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Plaintiff is not entitled
to benefits is correct.
well established that the ALJ is not required to discuss
every piece of evidence in the record. Reid v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 769 F.3d 861, 865 (4th Cir. 2014).
However, the ALJ must provide “a logical explanation
for [a court] to conduct meaningful appellate review.”
Thomas v. Berryhill, 916 F.3d 307, 311-12 (4th. Cir.
2019); see also Melgarejo v. Astrue, Civil No. JKS
08-3140, 2009 WL 5030706, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 15, 2009)
(holding that an ALJ's duty to explain his findings and
conclusions on all material issues of fact or law is
satisfied when a reviewing court can determine, from an
ALJ's opinion and the evidence of record, how he reached
his conclusion). In determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ
is required to consider all of the claimant's
impairments, both severe and non-severe, in combination.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(2); Walker v.
Bowen, 889 F.2d 47, 49-50 (4th Cir. 1989). The RFC
analysis is based on “all the relevant evidence”
of a claimant's “impairment(s), and any related
symptoms, such as pain, [which] may cause physical and mental
limitations that affect what [a claimant] can do in a work
setting.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). One of the
factors the ALJ is supposed to consider when evaluating a
claimant's symptoms is “[t]he type, dosage,
effectiveness, and side effects of any medication you take or
have taken to alleviate your pain or other symptoms.”
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3)(iv).
Plaintiff argues, in February, 2016, he described to his
medical provider a feeling of sedation with use of his
prescribed muscle relaxant. Tr. 1011. Approximately two
months later, he again told his physician that the
hydrocodone makes him sleepy when used with the muscle
relaxant. Tr. 1024. In the fall of 2016, Plaintiff's
physician sent him for a neurological evaluation to address
ongoing concerns about his memory and sensory disturbances.
Tr. 1111. He had a follow up neurological appointment on
November 4, 2016, during which he reported feelings of
confusion and forgetfulness. Tr. 1115. At the hearing before
the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that side effects of his
medications included drowsiness, feeling tired, and
diminished memory. Tr. 34-35.
ALJ, however, made no mention of the side effects of
Plaintiff's medications, or of the impact of any of
Plaintiff's mental or non-exertional limitations anywhere
in the RFC assessment. There is no mention of confusion,
fatigue, or forgetfulness, and no analysis to explain whether
any RFC limitations would be needed to address any of those
symptoms. The only references the ALJ made to Plaintiff's
medications were two notes from treating doctors in 2014 and
2015 encouraging Plaintiff to wean himself off pain
medications (both of those notes were made in the weeks
following spinal fusion surgeries), and a 2014 note that
hydrocodone helped manage, but not eliminate, Plaintiff's
pain. Tr. 16-17. The ALJ did not provide any explanation for
finding Plaintiff's side effects had no impact on his
ability to perform work related activities for a full work
day. See Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 658
(finding ALJ's discussion of claimant's daily
activities were enough to conclude medication side effects
were not disabling). The complete absence of analysis of
Plaintiff's non-exertional limitations is particularly
significant in this case, where the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff would be capable of his past skilled work as a
systems analyst. In light of the mental demands necessary to
fulfill a skilled position, see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1568(c), and the failure of the ALJ to assess the
potential mental limitations evidenced in the record, I
recommend remand for the ALJ to explain his conclusions.
reasons set forth above, I respectfully recommend that:
1. the Court DENY Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment, ECF 13;
2. the Court DENY Plaintiff's Motion for Summary