United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
11, 2018, Plaintiff Jose T. petitioned this Court to review
the Social Security Administration’s
(“SSA’s”) final decision to deny his claims
for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income. ECF 1. I have considered the parties’
cross-motions for summary judgment, and Plaintiff’s
reply. ECF 19, 20, 21. 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 claims for benefits on July 1, 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of June 9, 2014. Tr. 309-19. His claims
were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 234-41,
243-46. A hearing was held on May 2, 2017, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 165-91.
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. 11-20. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, Tr. 1-7,
so the ALJ’s decision constitutes the final, reviewable
decision of the SSA.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“status-post aortic aneurysm repair, hypertension, and
obesity.” Tr. 13. Despite these impairments, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform a range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), which generally involves
lifting/carrying no more than 10 pounds occasionally and less
than 10 pounds frequently, standing/walking up to 2 hours,
and sitting for 6 or more hours during an 8-hour workday. The
claimant, however, requires the opportunity to alternate
between sitting/standing while remaining on task at 30-minute
intervals. She [sic] cannot ladder/rope/scaffold climb, but
can perform other postural activities (like balancing and
stooping) on an occasional basis, and she [sic] must avoid
hazards, like unprotected heights and dangerous moving
Tr. 14. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
could not perform any of his past relevant work, but could
perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy. Tr. 18-20. Therefore, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 20.
raises three arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ erred at
step three in analyzing whether Plaintiff’s impairments
meet or medically equal the Listings; (2) that the ALJ failed
to follow the special technique applicable to mental
impairments; and (3) that the ALJ did not assign adequate
weight to the opinions of his treating physicians. Although
not all of Plaintiff’s arguments are meritorious, I
agree that the ALJ’s analysis was inadequate for the
reasons discussed below. 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.
first argument relates to the ALJ’s evaluation of the
Listings. ECF 19 at 9-18. The ALJ’s analysis read as
Specific attention was paid to section 4.00 of the medical
listings for cardiovascular impairments. Under section 4.00,
the record does not establish chronic heart failure
(resulting in persistent symptoms of heart failure which
would very seriously limit the ability to independently
initiate, sustain, or completed [sic] activities of daily
living; 3 or more separate episodes of acute congestive heart
failure within a consecutive 12-month period; or inability to
perform on an exercise tolerance test at a workload
equivalent to 5 METs or less), ischemic heart disease (with a
sign-or-symptom limited exercise tolerance test, 3 separate
ischemic episodes requiring revascularization within a 12
month period, or coronary artery disease resulting in very
serious limitations in the ability to independently initiate,
sustain or complete activities of daily living), recurrent
arrhythmias, symptomatic congenital heart disease (with
cyanosis at rest, intermittent right-to-left shunting
resulting in cyanosis on exertion, or secondary pulmonary
vascular obstructive disease), heart transplant, chronic
venous insufficiency, or peripheral arterial disease.
Under section 4.10, although the record shows that the
claimant suffered an aortic aneurysm in June 2014, subsequent
treatment notes indicate that the dissection was controlled
by prescribed treatment. As detailed below, post-surgical
treatment notes and imaging from the period at issue do not
show persistence of chest pain due to progression of the
dissection, an increase in the size of the aneurysm, or
compression of one or more branches of the aorta supplying
the heart, kidneys, brain, or other organs.
Consequently, the criteria of a Listing in section 4.00 have
not been satisfied.
Tr. 14. Plaintiff contends that in that discussion, the ALJ
identified Listing 4.04 (Ischemic Heart Disease), but did not
sufficiently analyze the medical evidence pertaining to that
listing. ECF 19 at 9-18.
disagree with the premise that Listing 4.04 was identified.
This Court has repeatedly held that the mention of a general
category of listings does not, by itself, trigger an
ALJ’s duty to evaluate each listing in the category.
See, e.g., Krouse v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin.,
No. SAG-16-128, 2017 WL 532278, at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 9, 2017);
Torres v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
SAG-15-3294, 2016 WL 5108022, at *2 (D. Md. Sept. 20, 2016);
Rawls v. Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No.
JFM-15-1609, 2016 WL 3087450, at *2 (D. Md. June 2, 2016).
Indeed, a contrary conclusion would undercut the requirement
that “ALJ’s discuss a specific listing only when
the claimant marshals ‘ample evidence’ that an
impairment actually meets the criteria for that
listing.” Fletcher v. Colvin, No. 1:15-CV-166,
2016 WL 915196, at *10 (M.D. N.C. Mar. 4, 2016) (quoting
Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168, 1173 (4th Cir.
1986). If Plaintiff’s argument were correct, the
ALJ’s reference to section 4.00 of the Listings would
require a detailed analysis of eleven Listing subsections,
including categories such as heart transplant which are
patently inapplicable to his claim. Moreover, the Fourth
Circuit’s decision in Patterson v. Comm’r,
Soc. Sec. Admin., 846 F.3d 656 (4th Cir. 2017) further
undermines Plaintiff’s argument. There, the Court
remanded the claim because the ALJ failed to follow the
special technique required when evaluating the
claimant’s mental impairments. Id. Notably,
the Court found that “the ALJ’s lack of
explanation require[d] remand, ” and that the
ALJ’s failure to “[s]how [his] work . . .
rendered his ...