United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
TRINITY S. DALTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge
has filed this action challenging the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claims for
disabled child's insurance benefits and supplemental
security income benefits under the Social Security Act, as
amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(d) and 423, and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1381 et seq., respectively. Jurisdiction of
this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42
U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). As reflected by the memoranda and
argument submitted by the parties, the issues now before the
court are whether the Commissioner's final decision is
supported by substantial evidence, or whether there is
"good cause" to necessitate remanding the case to
the Commissioner for further consideration. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
plaintiff, Trinity S. Dalton, was born on November 7, 1990.
Mr. Dalton eventually graduated from high school with a
modified diploma at the age of 19. (Tr. 820). He has no
history of past relevant work. (Tr. 36, 68).
September 13, 2013, Mr. Dalton filed applications for
disabled child's insurance benefits and supplemental
security income benefits. In filing his current claims, Mr.
Dalton alleged that he became disabled for all forms of
substantial gainful employment on March 18, 2012, due to a
heart condition and problems with his right hip. (Tr. 246).
Mr. Dalton now maintains that he has remained disabled to the
Dalton's applications were denied upon initial
consideration and reconsideration. He then requested and
received a de novo hearing and review before an
Administrative Law Judge. In an opinion dated November 23,
2016, the Law Judge also determined, after applying the
five-step sequential evaluation process, that Mr. Dalton is
not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and
416.920.The Law Judge found that Mr. Dalton suffers
from several severe impairments, including "status post
aortic tear requiring stent placement, status post open
reduction internal fixation [of] the right hip, and [a]
learning disability," but that these impairments do not,
either individually or in combination, meet or medically
equal the requirements of a listed impairment. (Tr. 30-31).
The Law Judge then assessed Mr. Dalton's residual
functional capacity as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), in that the
claimant is able to frequently lift and carry 10 pounds,
occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds, and sit for six hours
and stand/walk for four hours in an eight-hour period. In
addition, the claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds, can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, kneel, or
crawl, can frequently stoop or crouch, and should avoid
concentrated exposure to hazards.
(Tr. 32). Given this residual functional capacity, and after
considering the testimony of a vocational expert, the Law
Judge determined that Mr. Dalton retains sufficient
functional capacity to perform certain unskilled, sedentary
work roles existing in significant number in the national
economy. (Tr. 36). Accordingly, the Law Judge concluded that
Mr. Dalton is not disabled, and that he is not entitled to
benefits under either federal program. See generally
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350(a)(5), 404.1520(g), and
416.920(g). The Law Judge's opinion was adopted as the
final decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security
Administration's Appeals Council. Having exhausted all
available administrative remedies, Mr. Dalton has now
appealed to this court.
plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment,
the crucial factual determination is whether plaintiff is
disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2) and 1382c(a).
There are four elements of proof which must be considered in
making such an analysis. These elements are summarized as
follows: (1) objective medical facts and clinical findings;
(2) the opinions and conclusions of treating physicians; (3)
subjective evidence of physical manifestations of
impairments, as described through a claimant's testimony;
and (4) the claimant's education, vocational history,
residual skills, and age. Vitek v. Finch. 438 F.2d
1157, 1159-60 (4th Cir. 1971); Underwood v.
Ribicoff, 298 F.2d 850, 851 (4th Cir. 1962).
appeal, Mr. Dalton raises several arguments, including that
the Law Judge erred in determining his residual functional
capacity and presented a legally insufficient hypothetical to
the vocational expert. After reviewing the record and
considering the parties' arguments, the court finds
"good cause" to remand the case to the Commissioner
for further development and consideration. See 42 U.S.C.
administrative record reveals that Mr. Dalton has a specific
learning disability for which he received special education
services in school. (Tr. 820, 821, 827, 865). At step two of
the sequential evaluation process, the Law Judge found that
plaintiffs learning disability "cause[s] significant
functional limitations" and therefore qualifies as a
"severe" mental impairment under the applicable
regulations. (Tr. 30). Additionally, at step three of the
sequential process, the Law Judge determined that plaintiffs
mental impairment results in "moderate
difficulties" with "concentration, persistence or
pace." (Tr. 31). Although the Law Judge did not include
any restrictions related to plaintiffs learning disability in
his residual functional capacity assessment or the initial
hypothetical presented to the vocational expert (Tr. 32, 68),
the vocational expert voluntarily added a limitation to
"unskilled" work. (Tr. 68) ("I think the
hypothetical best frames the sedentary work, obviously,
unskilled. Further, I suggest we look at production-oriented
work."). The vocational expert then identified several
unskilled, sedentary jobs that could be performed by an
individual with the limitations described by the Law Judge.
(Tr. 68). In particular, the vocational expert testified that
the "residual occupational base" would include the
jobs of assembler, bagger/stuffer, and inspector/tester. (Tr.
68-69). The Law Judge ultimately relied on the testimony of
the vocational expert in determining that "there are
jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant can perform." (Tr. 36).
court's view, the difficulty with the Law Judge's
evaluation of plaintiff s mental impairment is two-fold.
First, the Law Judge's opinion appears to correlate an
ability to perform simple tasks with the ability to maintain
concentration, persistence, and pace. On page 8 of his
decision, the Law Judge summarily states as follows:
As there is no allegation or evidence of any problems with
social interaction, the undersigned finds that the claimant
has no difficulty maintaining social functioning. However,
the undersigned finds that the mental impairment causes
moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration,
persistence, or pace. Thus, the undersigned finds that
restrictions imposed by [the] learning disability are limited
to inability to perform work that is not unskilled in nature.
(Tr. 35). The court agrees with the plaintiff that the Law
Judge's conclusory analysis conflicts with the decision
of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
in Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632 (4th Cir. 2015).
In Mascio. the Fourth Circuit explained that
"the ability to perform simple tasks differs from the
ability to stay on task," and that "[o]nly the
latter limitation would account for a claimant's
limitation in concentration, persistence, or pace."
Mascio, 780 F.3d at 638. Thus, merely limiting a
claimant to unskilled work, without any further explanation,
is insufficient under Mascio. See id.
("Perhaps the ALJ can explain why Mascio's moderate
limitation in concentration, persistence, or pace at step
three does not translate into a limitation in Mascio's
residual functional capacity .... But because the ALJ here
gave no explanation, a remand is in order.").
similar reasons, the court is also unable to conclude that
the Law Judge presented a legally sufficient hypothetical to
the vocational expert. While the Law Judge adopted the
vocational expert's opinion that plaintiff can perform
production-oriented work as an assembler, stuffer, or
inspector, the vocational expert was not asked to consider
the significance of moderate limitations in concentration,
persistence, or pace in the performance of such jobs, all of
which would seemingly require attendance to task.
Nevertheless, the Law Judge relied on the ...