United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration;
Deborah L. Boardman United States Magistrate Judge.
October 17, 2018, Plaintiff Angel C. 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 1. I have considered the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 10, 17. 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.
protectively filed her claims for benefits on March 4, 2015,
alleging an onset date of January 1, 2009. Tr. 196-211. Her
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr.
116-20, 130-33. A hearing was held on July 11, 2017, before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 42-65.
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. 10-19. The Appeals
Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for
further review, Tr. 1-6, so the ALJ's decision
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the SSA.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“mood disorder, psychosis, anxiety disorder, back
disorder, and neck disorder.” Tr. 13 (citations
removed). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and
416.967(c), except the claimant: can perform only occasional
postural activity; cannot climb; cannot have more than
occasional contact with coworkers, supervisors, or the
general public; and, is limited to performing only simple,
repetitive, routine tasks performed at a routine pace
throughout the course of the workday.
Tr. 15. After considering the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
could not perform past relevant work as a nurse aide,
cashier, or medical technician, but could perform other jobs
existing in the national economy. Tr. 18-19. Therefore, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 19.
makes two primary arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ's
RFC assessment was flawed; and (2) that the ALJ's
assessment of Plaintiff's credibility was not supported
by substantial evidence. ECF 10-1 at 3-14. I agree that the
ALJ's RFC assessment did not adequately address
Plaintiff's moderate limitations in concentration,
persistence, or pace, and therefore grant remand under
Mascio v. Colvin, 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 Plaintiff's “moderate
difficulties” in concentration, persistence, or pace.
780 F.3d 632, 638 (4th Cir. 2015). At step three of the
sequential evaluation, the ALJ 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'x 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 assessing the
ability to: (1) understand, remember, or apply information;
(2) interact with others; (3) concentrate, persist, or
maintain pace; and (4) adapt or manage 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. § 12.00(E)(3).
employs the “special technique” to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in each 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. § 416.920a(b), (c)(2)
(2017). The ALJ uses a five-point scale to rate a
claimant's degree of limitation in the four areas: none,
mild, moderate, marked, or extreme. Id. §
416.920a(c)(4). A moderate limitation signifies 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'x 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
moderate limitations maintaining concentration, persistence,
or pace. Tr. 14. The ALJ's analysis stated:
With regard to concentrating, persisting, or maintaining
pace, the claimant has moderate limitation. The claimant
reported that she has difficulty concentrating; however, the
claimant reported that she spends time reading ...