United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
before this Court are cross-motions for summary judgment.
(ECF Nos. 14, 16). 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 April 1, 2014, alleging a disability onset
date of February 21, 2014. (Tr. 14). The SSA denied
Plaintiff's application initially on August 15, 2014 and
upon reconsideration, denied it again on February 4, 2015.
(Id.). The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) granted Plaintiff's request for a
hearing and conducted it on April 4, 2017. (Id.). On
August 27, 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. 14-32). 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 February 21, 2014:
degenerative joint disease and effusion of right knee,
status-post surgical open reduction and internal fixation
(ORIF) and repair, degenerative joint disease of right
shoulder, tendon tear of left shoulder, and gout in lower
extremity. (Tr. 17). Recognizing those severe impairments,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
occasional push/pull with the bilateral lower extremities,
occasional push/pull and reach overhead with the bilateral
upper extremities, occasionally climb ramps/stairs, never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, occasionally kneel and
crouch, frequently stoop, never crawl. (Tr. 19).
hearing, a vocational expert (“VE”) testified
about whether a hypothetical person who was limited to light
exertional work, could perform jobs that the Plaintiff
previously performed. (Tr. 66). Next, the ALJ asked the VE
about a hypothetical person with the same limitations as the
Plaintiff could perform other work existing in significant
numbers in the national economy. The VE opined that the
person, could do so e.g., as a production inspector, a price
marker, an informational clerk, and mail clerk. (Tr. 67-68).
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 his mental
impairments and in determining his RFC, namely, by failing
to: (a) explain how she determined that Plaintiff was limited
to the performance of light exertional-level work; (b)
explain how she evaluated a Work Activity Questionnaire; and
(c) resolve an apparent conflict between the testimony of the
vocational expert and the information contained in The
Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (ECF No. 14, pp. 5-13).
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 important as the other two.”
Thomas v. Berryhill, 916 F.3d 307, 311 (4th Cir.
2019). See also Petry v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., No. SAG-16-464, 2017 WL 680379, at *2 (D.Md.
Feb. 21, 2017) (the ALJ should build “an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion”).
contends that the ALJ failed to adequately explain how she
determined that Plaintiff was limited to the performance of
“light exertional level work.” (ECF No. 14, p.
6). In contrast, Defendant relies on Thomason v.
Astrue, No. TMD-08-3403, 2012 WL 707003 (D.Md. Mar. 2,
2012), to argue that the Plaintiff advances a
“boilerplate argument” that failed to provide a
narrative discussion when assessing Plaintiff's RFC. (ECF
No. 16-1, p. 6).
Fourth Circuit has held that “meaningful review is
frustrated when an ALJ merely lists the evidence, and then
simply states a conclusion.” Thomas, 916 F.3d
at 311. An ALJ's narrative discussion “must both
identify evidence that supports [the] conclusion and build an
accurate and logical bridge from [that] evidence to [the]