United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
CHAMBERS OF STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
August 29, 2018, Plaintiff Guillermo S. petitioned this Court
to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny his claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits. ECF 1. I have considered
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 14,
15. 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. 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.
filed his claim for benefits on June 1, 2015, alleging an
onset date of September 1, 2014. Tr. 260-61. His
claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 92-96.
A hearing was held on August 1, 2017, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 31-62.
Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
during the relevant time frame. Tr. 15-25. The Appeals
Council declined review, Tr. 1-8, so the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the SSA.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“lumbar degenerative disc disease, obesity, depression
and anxiety.” Tr. 17. Despite these impairments, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with
additional limitations. The claimant is able to lift up to 20
pounds at a time, frequently lift or carry objects weighing
up to 10 pounds, and stand, walk and sit for approximately
six hours each in an eight-hour workday. He can push/pull the
same amount as he can lift and carry. The claimant can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs and he can never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He can occasionally stoop,
kneel, crouch and crawl. The claimant is limited to
performing simple, repetitive work. He is able to adapt to
routine workplace changes and situations.
After considering the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could
perform his past relevant work as a gas station cashier. Tr.
24. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
disabled. Tr. 25.
presents three arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ's
RFC assessment runs afoul of the Fourth Circuit's
decision in Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 638 (4th
Cir. 2015); (2) that the ALJ erroneously failed to assign
weight to the opinion of a consultative examiner; and (3)
that the ALJ erred when assigning weight to the other medical
opinions. I agree that the ALJ's analysis did not comply
with Mascio, and I therefore grant remand under
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In remanding for
further explanation, I express no opinion as to whether the
ALJ's ultimate conclusion that Plaintiff is not entitled
to benefits is correct.
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 637-38. At step three of the sequential
evaluation, the SSA 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 (2017).
Listings 12.00 et seq. pertain to mental
impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00
(2017). The relevant listings therein consist of: (1)
“paragraph A criteria, ” which consist of a set
of medical findings; (2) “paragraph B criteria, ”
which consist of a set of impairment-related functional
limitations; and (3) “paragraph C criteria, ”
which relate to “serious and persistent”
disorders lasting at least two years with a history of
ongoing medical treatment and marginal adjustment.
Id. §§ 12.00(A), (G). A claimant's
impairments meet the listings relevant to this case by
satisfying either the paragraph A and paragraph B criteria,
or the paragraph A and paragraph C criteria. Id.
B consists of four broad functional areas including: (1)
understanding, remembering, or applying information; (2)
interacting with others; (3) concentrating, persisting, or
maintaining pace, and (4) adapting or managing oneself.
Id. § 12.00(A)(2)(b). The functional area of
concentration, persistence, or pace “refers to the
abilit[y] to focus attention on work activities and stay on
task at a sustained rate.” Id. §
employs the “special technique” to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in each functional 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. §§ 404.1520a(b),
(c)(2) (2017). The SSA uses a five-point scale to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in the four areas: none,
mild, moderate, marked, or extreme. Id. §
404.1520a(c)(4). A moderate limitation signifies that the
claimant has only a fair ability to function in the relevant
area of mental functioning. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
1 § 12.00(F)(2)(c) (2017).
Fourth Circuit remanded Mascio because the
hypothetical the ALJ posed to the VE- and the corresponding
RFC assessment-did not include any mental limitations other
than unskilled work, despite the fact that, at step three of
the sequential evaluation, the ALJ determined that the
claimant had moderate difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace. 780 F.3d at 637-38. The
Fourth Circuit specifically held that it “agree[s] with
other circuits that an ALJ does not account for a
claimant's limitations in concentration, persistence, and
pace by restricting the hypothetical question to simple,
routine tasks or unskilled work.” Id. at 638
(quoting Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631
F.3d 1176, 1180 (11th Cir. 2011)) (internal quotation marks
omitted). In so holding, the Fourth Circuit emphasized the
distinction between the ability to perform simple tasks and
the ability to stay on task, stating that “[o]nly the
latter limitation would account for a claimant's
limitation in concentration, persistence, or pace.”
Id. Although the Fourth Circuit noted that the
ALJ's error might have been cured by an explanation as to
why the claimant's moderate difficulties in
concentration, persistence, or pace did not translate into a
limitation in the claimant's RFC, it held that absent
such an explanation, remand was necessary. Id.
three in the instant case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had a
moderate limitation with concentration, persistence, or
maintaining pace. Tr. 18. ...