United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
KAREN M. MOORE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
C. MULLEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court upon Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) and the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13).
After carefully reviewing those motions, supporting
memoranda, and the pleadings, the Court enters the following
findings, conclusions, and Order.
November 27, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging a disability onset date of September 16, 2014. (Doc.
No. 10-1, at 14). The application was denied, first on June
6, 2014 and then upon reconsideration on June 9, 2015. (Doc.
No. 10-1, at 14). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing
on July 8, 2015 and that hearing was held on May 11, 2017.
(Doc. No. 10-1, at 14).
evaluating Plaintiff's alleged disability, the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that the
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2015. (Doc. No. 10-1, at
19). The ALJ also engaged in a five-step sequential review
pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). As a part
of that review, the ALJ determined that: (1) the Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
alleged onset of disability; (2) the Plaintiff had severe
impairments (degenerative disc disease, status post
laminectomy with chronic lower back pain, obesity,
depression, and anxiety); (3) none of Plaintiff's
impairments or combination of impairments met the severity of
those listed in 20 CFR 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) given
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, and through the
Plaintiff's last date insured, she was capable of
performing past work relevant work as a data entry clerk;
and, (5) Plaintiff “could perform [185, 000] other jobs
available in the national economy.” (Doc. No. 10-1, at
23). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and
denied Plaintiff's application for a period of disability
and disability insurance benefits. (Doc. No. 10-1, 23).
Plaintiff requested review of that decision by the Appeals
Council on September 21, 2017. (Doc. No. 10-1, at 5). The
Appeals Council denied that request on June 7, 2018, making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”). (Doc. No.
10-1, at 5). Thereafter, Plaintiff timely filed this action,
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. (Doc. No. 1).
Standard of Review
review of a final decision of the Commissioner for disability
benefits under the Social Security Act is authorized pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), but review is limited to
consideration of (1) whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal standards and (2) whether substantial evidence
supports the Commissioner's decision. Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Hays v.
Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
Plaintiff made two assignments of error. The first is that
the ALJ did not properly explain how he concluded that
Plaintiff can stay on task for two hours or that Plaintiff
has no limitations to her ability to interact with
supervisors and co-workers. (Doc. No. 6, at 9). The second is
that the ALJ improperly rejected Plaintiff's symptom
testimony without providing specific reasons for doing so.
(Doc. No. 6, at 9). These challenges may be reviewed under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
undersigned's review of the record makes clear that
Plaintiff's first assignment of error is correct-the ALJ
failed to properly perform a function-by-function analysis
explaining how he reached the conclusions in Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
determination. Social Security Ruling (“SSR”)
96-89 requires that an RFC assessment “first identify
the individual's functional limitations or restrictions
and assess his or her work-related abilities on a
function-by-function basis.” 1996 SSR LEXIS 5, 61 Fed.
Reg. 34, 474, 34, 475 (July 2, 1996). SSR 96-89 also requires
an RFC assessment 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).” Id. at 34, 478. It follows
that “remand may be appropriate where an ALJ fails to
assess a [plaintiff'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) (emphasis
added). For example, in Mascio the Fourth Circuit
concluded that the ALJ's analysis was inadequate where he
stated that his conclusions were based on the medical
evidence in the record (and the plaintiff's subjective
complaints) but failed to provide any analysis or citations
to the record. Id. at 636-37.
the ALJ, when making his RFC determination, determined that
Plaintiff “can stay on task for two hours at a time
throughout the workday.” (Do. No. 10-1, at 19). Like in
Mascio, the ALJ stated that he carefully considered
the record when reaching that determination but did not cite
to the record or provide any other support for his position.
(Doc. No. 10-1, at 19). Similarly, the ALJ provided no
analysis (and not a single reference to the record) in
support of his conclusion that Plaintiff “can have no
more than occasional public interaction, ” as opposed
to a more restrictive determination that Plaintiff could not
have more than occasional public interaction with co-workers
and supervisors as well. (Doc. No. 10-1, at 19). Because the
undersigned is left to guess how the ALJ arrived at his
conclusions about Plaintiffs ability to stay on task and
interact with others, remand is appropriate. See
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 637.
undersigned has carefully reviewed the decision of the ALJ,
the transcript of proceedings, Plaintiffs motion and brief,
the Commissioner's responsive pleading, and Plaintiffs
assignments of error. Review of the entire record reveals
that the decision of the ALJ erred by providing insufficient
analysis, frustrating meaningful review of the ALJ's RFC
determinations that the Plaintiff can stay on task for two
hours at a time during the workday and can interact with
co-workers and supervisors. Plaintiffs other assignment of
error-that the ALJ improperly failed to provide specific
reasons for the weight it gave to Plaintiffs testimony-is
rejected. Thus, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 13) is denied, the
Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11) is
granted, and the ...