United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
CHARLES B. DAY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
(“Plaintiff”) brought this action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”). The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff's claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“SSA”) beginning
March 16, 2015. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion
for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 15, (“Plaintiff's
Motion”), Plaintiff's Alternative Motion for
Remand, ECF No. 15, (“Plaintiff's Alternative
Motion”) and Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment (“Commissioner's Motion”), ECF No.
18. The Court has reviewed the motions, related memoranda,
and the applicable law. No. hearing is deemed necessary.
See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons
presented below, the Court hereby DENIES
Plaintiff's Motion, DENIES
Commissioner's Motion, GRANTS
Plaintiff's Alternative Motion, and
REMANDS the ALJ's decision pursuant to
the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion. A separate order
December 11, 2015, Plaintiff filed for DIB under Title II of
the SSA, alleging disability beginning March 16, 2015. R.
Plaintiff alleged disability due to degenerative disc
disease, fibromyalgia, history of seizure disorder, mood
disorder and anxiety disorder. R. 25; Mem. in Supp. of
Pl.'s Mot. 2, ECF No. 15-1. Plaintiff's claims were
initially denied on June 2, 2016, R. 87, and upon
reconsideration on October 19, 2016. R. 107,
An administrative hearing was held on October 16, 2017. R.
23, 43. On February 23, 2018, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
was not disabled and denied Plaintiff's claim for DIB. R.
36. Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council, which
concluded on September 19, 2018, that there was no basis for
granting the request for review. R. 1-6. Plaintiff
subsequently filed an appeal with this Court. ECF No. 1.
Standard of Review
appeal, the Court has the power to affirm, modify, or reverse
the decision of the ALJ “with or without remanding the
cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2019).
The Court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ applied the
correct law. Id. (“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.”);
see also Russell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 440
Fed.Appx. 163, 164 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990)).
“In other words, if the ALJ has done his or her job
correctly and supported the decision reached with substantial
evidence, this Court cannot overturn the decision, even if it
would have reached a contrary result on the same
evidence.” Schoofield v. Barnhart, 220
F.Supp.2d 512, 515 (D. Md. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla.” Russell,
440 Fed.Appx. at 164. “It means such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see also
Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (quoting Laws v.
Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (“It consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance. If there is evidence to justify a refusal to
direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is
Court does not review the evidence presented below de
novo, nor does the Court “determine the weight of
the evidence” or “substitute its judgment for
that of the Secretary if his decision is supported by
substantial evidence.” Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456
(citations omitted); see also Blalock v. Richardson,
483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972) (“[T]he language of
§ [405(g)] precludes a de novo judicial
proceeding and requires that the court uphold the
Secretary's decision even should the court disagree with
such decision as long as it is supported by
‘substantial evidence.'”). The ALJ, not the
Court, has the responsibility to make findings of fact and
resolve evidentiary conflicts. Hays, 907 F.2d at
1456 (citations omitted). If the ALJ's factual finding,
however, “was reached by means of an improper standard
or misapplication of the law, ” then that finding is
not binding on the Court. Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d
514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).
Commissioner shall find a person legally disabled under Title
II if he is unable “to do any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1505(a) (2012). The Code of Federal Regulations outlines
a five-step process that the Commissioner must follow to
determine if a claimant meets this definition:
1) Determine whether the plaintiff is “doing
substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i) (2012). If he is doing such activity, he is
not disabled. If he is not doing such activity, proceed to
2) Determine whether the plaintiff has a “severe
medically determinable physical or mental impairment that
meets the duration requirement in § [404.1509], or a
combination of impairments that is severe and meets the
duration requirement.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii) (2012). If he does not have such
impairment or combination of impairments, he is not disabled.
If he does meet these requirements, proceed to step three.
3) Determine whether the plaintiff has an impairment that
“meets or equals one of [the C.F.R.'s] listings in
appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration
requirement.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii)
(2012). If he does have such impairment, he is disabled. If
he does not, proceed to step four.
4) Determine whether the plaintiff retains the
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”) to perform “past relevant
work.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) (2012). If
he can perform such work, he is not disabled. If he cannot,
proceed to step five.
5) Determine whether the plaintiff can perform other work,
considering his RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v) (2012). If he can perform
other work, he is not disabled. If he cannot, he is disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) (2012). Plaintiff has
the burden to prove that he is disabled at steps one through
four, and Commissioner has the burden to prove that Plaintiff
is not disabled at step five. Hunter v. Sullivan,
993 F.2d 31, 35 (4th Cir. 1992).
is an assessment that represents the most a claimant can
still do despite any physical and mental limitations on a
“regular and continuing basis.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(b)-(c) (2012). In making this assessment, the ALJ
“must consider all of the claimant's
‘physical and mental impairments, severe and otherwise,
and determine, on a function-by-function basis, how they
affect [the claimant's] ability to work.'”
Thomas v. Berryhill, 916 F.3d 307, 311 (4th Cir.
2019) (citing Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 188
(4th Cir. 2016)); See also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a) (2012). The ALJ must present 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), ” and must then “explain how any
material inconsistencies or ambiguities in the evidence in
the case record were considered and resolved.” See
Thomas, 916 F.3d at 311; SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 at *7
(S.S.A. July 2, 1996). “Once the ALJ has completed the
function-by-function analysis, the ALJ can make a finding as
to the claimant's RFC.” Thomas, 916 F.3d
at 311. “Ultimately, it is the duty of the [ALJ]
reviewing the case, and not the responsibility of the courts,
to make findings of fact and to resolve conflicts of
evidence.” Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (citing
King v. Califano, 599 F.2d 597, 599 (4th Cir.
1979)). “[R]emand may be appropriate . . . where an ALJ
fails to assess a claimant's capacity to perform relevant
functions, despite contradictory evidence in the record, or
where other inadequacies in the ALJ's analysis frustrate
meaningful review.” Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d
632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing Cichocki v. Astrue,
729 F.3d 172, 177 (2d Cir. 2013)).
evaluated Plaintiff's claim using the five-step
sequential evaluation process. R. 25-36. At step one, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since March 16, 2015, the alleged onset date
of Plaintiff's disability. R. 25. At step two, under 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: “degenerative
disc disease; fibromyalgia; history of a seizure disorder;
mood disorder; and an anxiety disorder.” R. 25. The ALJ
stated that the listed impairments “significantly limit
the ability to perform basic work activities as required by
SSR 85-28.” R. 25. At step three, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
and 404.1526).” R. 25. Further, the ALJ also determined
that Plaintiff had a moderate limitation with regard to
concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace. R.26. Before
turning to step four, the ALJ determined that claimant had
the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(a) with the following additional limitations:
[Plaintiff] can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; she can
never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she occasionally
stoop, [sic] kneel, crouch, or crawl; [Plaintiff] can never
work around unprotected heights; and she can never operate a
motor vehicle. [Plaintiff] can never work around dangerous
moving mechanical parts, sharp objects, or open flames.
[Plaintiff] is limited to simple tasks with occasional
interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the general
R. 27. At step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is unable
to perform any past relevant work. R. 34. At step five, with
the benefit of a Vocational Expert (“VE”), the
ALJ found that “there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff
can perform.” R. 35. These jobs include: Document
Preparer, Semi-Conductor Bonder, and Touch-Up Screener. R.
appeal, Plaintiff argues that the Court should reverse the
ALJ's decision, or in the alternative remand this matter
for a new administrative hearing, alleging that the ALJ's
RFC determination was not supported with substantial evidence
because: (1) The RFC the ALJ presented to the VE is legally
insufficient; and (2) The ALJ failed to give proper weight to
the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician. Pl.'s
Mem. in Supp. of Mot. 8-12.
Residual Functional Capacity
asserts that the RFC presented to the VE is insufficient
because it does not reflect Plaintiff's issues with
seizures, lower back pain, fibromyalgia fatigue, focus,
concentration, memory issues, anxiety, depression, seizures,
and pain. Id. at 11. Plaintiff then contends that
“[h]ad the ALJ included exertional and mental
limitations in his RFC finding, a favorable decision would be
warranted.” Id. The Court finds that
Plaintiff's argument is essentially a challenge to the
ALJ's RFC, therefore, the Court must analyze whether the
RFC was supported by substantial evidence.
the Court will affirm the Social Security
Administration's disability determination when an ALJ has
applied correct legal standards and the ALJ's factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence. Woods v.
Berryhill, 888 F.3d 686, 691 (4th Cir. 2018) (citing
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 634). But when performing an RFC
assessment, the ALJ must provide a narrative discussion
describing how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing
specific medical facts and nonmedical evidence. SSR 96-8p,
1996 WL 374184, at *7 (S.S.A). “In other words, the ALJ
must both identify evidence that supports his
conclusion and ‘build an accurate logical
bridge from [that] evidence to his conclusion.'”
Woods, 888 F.3d at 694 (emphasis in original).
proper RFC analysis has three components: (1) evidence; (2)
logical explanation; and (3) conclusion. Thomas, 916
F.3d at 311. The ALJ's logical explanation is just as
important as the other two. Id. Without a proper
narrative discussion from the ALJ, it is impossible for the
Court to determine whether the decision was based on
substantial evidence. Geblaoui v. Berryhill, No.
CBD-17-1229, 2018 WL 3049223, at *3 (D. Md. June 20, 2018)
(citing Jones v. Astrue, No. SKG-09-1683, 2011 WL
5833638, at *14 (D. Md. Nov. 18, 2011)). “The ALJ has
the obligation to consider all relevant medical
evidence and cannot simply cherrypick facts that support a
finding of nondisability while ignoring evidence that points
to a disability finding.” Lewis v. Berryhill,
858 F.3d 858, 869 (4th Cir. 2017) (emphasis added). The ALJ
must also include “a discussion of which evidence the
ALJ found credible and why, and specific application of the
pertinent legal requirements to the record evidence.”
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 189 (citing Radford v.
Colvin, 734 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2013)).
The ALJ's RFC was insufficient because it failed to
include an explicit conclusion about how Plaintiff's
mental limitations affect her ability ...