United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
December 17, 2018, Plaintiff Jackie W. petitioned this Court
to review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny his claims
for Supplemental Security Income. ECF 1. I have considered
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 11,
14. 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 Plaintiff's motion, grant the Commissioner's
motion, and affirm the Commissioner's judgment pursuant
to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405. This letter
explains my rationale.
previous denials, Plaintiff protectively filed his claim for
benefits on May 14, 2015, alleging an onset date of October
1, 2010. Tr. 237. His claim was denied initially
and on reconsideration. Tr. 128-30, 138-40. A hearing was
held on April 17, 2017, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Tr. 16-43. 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. 109-20. The Appeals Council (“AC”)
issued an unfavorable decision on October 26, 2018, adopting
the ALJ's opinion in all critical respects and
reevaluating Plaintiff's neurocognitive impairment under
the appropriate Listing. Tr. 4-8. Accordingly, the AC's
decision, and the ALJ's opinion as adopted therein,
constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the agency.
found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
“depression and neurocognitive disorder.” Tr. 5.
Despite these impairments, the AC determined that Plaintiff
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following non exertional limitations: the claimant
is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive work. He may
have only occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers,
and the public and cannot provide direct customer service.
The claimant may not perform any fast-paced production work.
Tr. 7. The AC adopted the ALJ's steps four and five
findings, reached after considering the testimony of a
vocational expert (“VE”), that Plaintiff could
not perform past relevant work as a quality control chemist,
but could perform other jobs existing in the national
economy. Tr. 6, 118-19. Therefore, the AC concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 7.
makes two primary arguments on appeal: (1) that the AC and
the ALJ erroneously failed to discuss the medical opinions of
Drs. Collins and Coleman; and (2) that the hypothetical posed
to the VE was flawed and ran afoul of Thomas v.
Berryhill, 916 F.3d 307 (4th Cir. 2019). Neither
argument has merit for the reasons below.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ and the AC should have
considered a 2010 opinion from Dr. Coleman, and a 2012
opinion from Dr. Collins. ECF 11-1 at 7-8. These medical
opinions preceded the relevant time period of May 14, 2015
(Plaintiff's alleged onset date) through June 7, 2017
(date of the ALJ's decision), and, therefore, the AC and
ALJ permissibly omitted them from their decisions. The AC
adopted the ALJ's consideration of the relevant medical
evidence of record, including Dr. Coleman's treatment
records from 2014 to 2017, and the opinions of consultative
examiner, Dr. Langlieb, and psychological evaluator, Dr.
Anderson. Tr. 6, 115-17. Furthermore, Plaintiff has not shown
how the outcome would have been different had the AC and ALJ
considered the opinions.
further asserts that the AC “made no findings on any
medical opinions.” ECF 11-1 at 8. However, the AC
expressly “adopt[ed] the [ALJ's] consideration of
medical source and non-medical source opinion
evidence.” Tr. 6. Plaintiff argues that the AC was
required to support its reevaluation of Plaintiff's
mental impairments under the revised “paragraph B
criteria” with medical support, but the AC did not
reevaluate Plaintiff's mental impairments. The AC granted
review in this case to evaluate Plaintiff's
neurocognitive disorder under Listing 12.02 rather than
Listing 12.05, and to remove references to outdated Social
Security Rulings, Tr. 5, neither of which Plaintiff contests.
Because the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's mental impairments
under the revised paragraph B criteria, Tr. 113, the AC did
not err by adopting her paragraph B findings, Tr. 6.
Plaintiff argues that the SSA did not meet its step five
burden because (1) the ALJ's inclusion of the term
“production rate” does not account for
Plaintiff's moderate limitations in concentration,
persistence, or pace, and (2) the VE's proffered
representative jobs all require a Reasoning Level of 2
whereas the RFC limited Plaintiff to “simple, routine,
and repetitive work.” ECF 11-1 at 10-11. These
arguments are unpersuasive.
argues that the ALJ's hypothetical to the VE did not
adequately account for his moderate limitations in
concentration, persistence, and pace, and suggests that the
ALJ erroneously relied on the VE's testimony as
substantial evidence. ECF 11-1 at 10-11. For support,
Plaintiff cites to Thomas v. Berryhill, 916 F.3d 307
(4th Cir. 2019), in which the Fourth Circuit held that the
ALJ's failure to define “production rate or demand
pace” frustrated appellate review of whether the RFC
properly accounted for the plaintiff's moderate
limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace.
Id. at 312-13; see also Perry v. Berryhill,
765 Fed.Appx. 869, 873 (4th Cir. 2019) (unpublished)
(remanding for ALJ's failure to define
“non-production oriented work setting”). This
case does not run afoul of Thomas.
of background, 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. § 12.00(A).
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