United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Deborah L. Boardman United States Magistrate Judge
October 4, 2018, Plaintiff Olan M. petitioned this Court to
review the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA's”) final decision to deny his claim
for Supplemental Security Income. ECF 1. I have considered
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF 14,
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.
previous denials, Plaintiff protectively filed his claim for
benefits on January 15, 2016, alleging an onset date of June
10, 2014. Tr. 208. His claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration. Tr. 147-50, 154-55. A hearing was held on
February 7, 2018, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Tr. 34-65. 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 denied Plaintiff's
request for 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
“obesity, seizure disorder by history, schizophrenia,
and anxiety by history.” Tr. 12. Despite these
impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
perform medium exertional level work with the following
limitations: the claimant cannot engage in climbing or work
at unprotected heights or around dangerous machinery. The
claimant should not be exposed to extreme temperatures. The
claimant is limited to simple, repetitive non-production job
tasks in a low stress environment, with only occasional
interactions with coworkers, supervisors, or the general
After considering the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could
not perform his past relevant work as a deckhand or dock
hand, but could perform other jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy. Tr. 18-19. Therefore, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 19.
makes one primary argument on appeal: that the ALJ
erroneously assessed his RFC. ECF 14-1 at 5-11. Specifically,
Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's RFC discussion narrative,
evaluation of the relevant evidence, and inclusion of the
undefined term “non-production job tasks” in his
RFC. See id. I agree that the ALJ's RFC
assessment 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.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to “build an
accurate and logical bridge” from the evidence to his
conclusions. ECF 14-1 at 5 (quoting Woods v.
Berryhill, 888 F.3d 686, 694 (4th Cir. 2018)). An ALJ is
required to “include a narrative discussion describing
how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific
medical facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and nonmedical
evidence (e.g., daily activities, observations).”
Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015)
(quoting SSR 96-8p) (quotation marks removed).
the ALJ concluded that “the medical evidence of record
generally does not support the claimant's alleged loss of
functioning.” Tr. 16. For support, the ALJ noted:
The objective medical findings show predominately mild to
moderate exam findings, supporting a conclusion that the
claimant's symptoms are moderate at worst. The
claimant's treatment has been conservative, consisting
entirely of prescription medication and outpatient therapy.
The claimant has never been hospitalized for any psychiatric
reason. Additionally, the claimant has extensive activities
of daily living, including: attending church every Sunday,
socializing with family, attending the Go Getters program
twice a week, using public transportation, playing video
games, watching TV, listening to music, sweeping the floor,
taking out the trash, and cutting the grass.
Id. (citations removed).
Commissioner asserts that the ALJ “based the RFC
assessment on a careful examination of the evidence in the
record” and cites to the paragraph above to show that
the ALJ provided sufficient explanation for his conclusion.
ECF 17-1 at 4-5. On the surface, it may seem that the
ALJ's explanation, including references to
Plaintiff's medical treatment and nonmedical activities,
built the requisite bridge from evidence to conclusion.
However, the ALJ misstated the record. While the ALJ asserted
that Plaintiff's treatment had “consist[ed]
entirely of . . . outpatient therapy” and that he had
“never been hospitalized for any psychiatric reason,
” the record contains two such hospitalizations during
the relevant time period: September 11, 2014, through
September 16, 2014, for “psychotic behavior” and
October 23, 2014, through October 27, 2014, for
“paranoid behavior.” See Tr. 324-474.
The ALJ supported his erroneous statement with a citation to
a psychiatric evaluation conducted on December 9, 2015. Tr.
16 (citing to Tr. 860). It is unclear why the evaluation
contained incorrect information about Plaintiff's
psychiatric treatment, see Tr. 860 (“Pt. was
never hospitalized for psychiatric reason”), or why the
ALJ did not mention or discuss the hospitalizations. A large
portion of the record (approximately a quarter of the medical
evidence) is comprised of psychiatric hospitalization notes,
see Tr. 324-474, and those hospitalizations were
discussed in the opinions of both State agency consultants,
Tr. 120, 135-36, to which the ALJ gave “great weight,
” Tr. 16.
not appear, nor does the Commissioner argue, that the ALJ was
merely exercising his right to weigh conflicting evidence.
See, e.g., Hancock v. Astrue, 667 F.3d 470,
472 (4th Cir. 2012) (“Where conflicting evidence allows
reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is
disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the
[ALJ].”) (quoting Johnson v. Barnhart, 434
F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir. 2005)). Rather, the ALJ explicitly
misstated the record. Because the ALJ relied on
Plaintiff's lack of ...