United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
Stephen F. Shea, Esq.
W. Parson, Esq. Special Assistant United States Attorney
Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel
before this Court are cross-motions for summary judgment.
(ECF Nos. 13, 14). A court must uphold the Social Security
Administration's (“SSA” or “the
Agency”) decision if it supported by substantial
evidence and if the Agency employed proper legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3)(2016);
Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996).
The substantial evidence rule “consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance.” Chater, 76 F.3d at 589. A
court shall not “re-weigh conflicting evidence, make
credibility determinations, or substitute [its]
judgment” for that of the SSA. (Id.). Upon
review of the pleadings and the record, this Court finds that
no hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons
set forth below, both Motions are DENIED and
the SSA's judgment is remanded for further consideration.
filed a Title II Application for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Title XVI application for Supplemental Security
Income Benefits on January 2, 2015, alleging a disability
onset date of November 19, 2014. (Tr. 16). The SSA denied
Plaintiff's application initially on April 17, 2015 and
upon reconsideration, denied it again on August 21, 2015.
(Id.). The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) granted Plaintiff's request for a
hearing and conducted it on June 22, 2017. (Id.). On
November 16, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding the
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 16-27). The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
making the ALJ's decision the final, reviewable decision
of the Agency. (Tr. 1-5).
ANALYSIS PERFORMED BY THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
deciding to deny Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ followed the
five-step sequential evaluation process regarding disability
set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. See also Mascio v.
Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015). The steps
used by the ALJ were as follows: step one, assess whether
Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
alleged disability onset date; step two, determine whether
Plaintiff's impairments met the severity and durations
requirements found in the regulations; step three, ascertain
whether Plaintiff's medical impairment met or equaled an
impairment listed in the regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. (“the Listings”); step
four, analyze whether Plaintiff could perform her past work,
given the limitations caused by her impairments; and at step
five, analyze whether Plaintiff could perform any work. (Tr.
31-40). Because the first three steps did not yield a
conclusive determination, the ALJ also assessed
Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”)-i.e., the “most the claimant
‘c[ould] still do despite, physical and mental
limitations that affect[ed] her ability to work”-by
considering all of Plaintiff's medically determinable
impairments, regardless of their severity. See
Mascio, at 635 (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1)).
Per Mascio, Plaintiff bore the burden of proof
through the first four steps of the sequential evaluation
process. 780 F.3d at 636. Upon making the requisite showing,
the burden shifted to the Agency at step five to prove that
Plaintiff could perform other work that “exist[ed] in
significant numbers in the national economy, ” in light
of her “[RFC], age, education and work
experience.” Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858,
862 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal citations omitted).
the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments beginning on November 19, 2014: lupus and
peripheral neuropathy. (Tr. 18). Recognizing those severe
impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; never climbing
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently handling objects
with the right upper extremity; and the claimant must avoid
concentrated exposure to hazards such as moving machinery and
unprotected heights. (Tr. 21).
hearing, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified
about whether a hypothetical person with the same limitations
as the Plaintiff could perform Plaintiff's prior work as
a Pharmacy Technician. (Tr. 55). The VE testified that the
hypothetical person could not perform Plaintiff's prior
work but could perform other work existing in significant
numbers in the national economy, e.g., a document preparer, a
charge account clerk, and a call out operator. (Tr. 57).
Therefore, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled.
appeal to this Court, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ
committed several prejudicial errors in evaluating the
Plaintiff's mental impairments and in fashioning her RFC
by failing to: (1) evaluate the cumulative effects of all of
Plaintiff's impairments; and (2) explain why Dr.
Worthing's treating source opinions were only accorded
“partial weight.” (ECF No. 13, pp. 3-9). In
addition, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to evaluate
Plaintiff's subjective complaints regarding her pain.
(ECF No. 13, pp. 10-12). I find that remand is appropriate,
for the reasons set forth immediately below.
assessing a claimant's RFC, the regulations require that
an ALJ consider all the claimant's medically-determinable
impairments, including any medically-determinable impairments
that are not “severe.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.925(a)(2). The ALJ is to consider any inconsistency
between the evidence and the extent to which there are any
conflicts between a claimant's statements and the rest of
the evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(4). An ALJ will
determine if a claimant's symptoms will diminish his or
her capacity for basic work activities, subject to the
symptoms being consistent with the objective medical evidence
and other evidence. Id. The RFC determination should
include a “narrative discussion describing how the
evidence supports each conclusion citing specific medical
facts . . . and nonmedical evidence.” Social Security
Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *7 (July
2, 1996). Accordingly, a “proper RFC analysis contains
three components: (1) evidence, (2) logical explanation, and
(3) conclusion. The second component, the ALJ's logical
explanation, is just as ...