United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge
memorandum opinion and order entered August 31, 2018, the
court remanded this case to the Commissioner of Social
Security for further consideration of plaintiffs claims for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income benefits under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, and 42 U.S.C. § 1381
et seq.. respectively. The Commissioner has now
filed a motion to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Rule
59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff
has filed a response to the motion. Having considered the
parties' arguments, the court concludes that the motion
must be denied.
Rule 59(e) motion may be granted only in three situations:
'(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling
law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial;
or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest
injustice.'" Mayfield v. Nat'l Ass'n for
Stock Car Auto Racing. 674 F.3d 369, 378 (4th Cir. 2012)
(quoting Zinkand v. Brown. 478 F.3d 634, 637 (4th
Cir. 2007)). "It is an extraordinary remedy that should
be applied sparingly" and only in "exceptional
circumstances." Id. The rule "may not be
used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or
present evidence that could have been raised prior to the
entry of judgment." Exxon Shipping Co. v.
Baker. 554 U.S. 471, 486 n.5 (2008) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted).
these principles, the court concludes that the Commissioner
is not entitled to relief under Rule 59(e). In her motion,
the Commissioner first argues that the Administrative Law
Judge adequately assessed the opinions of Dr. Elizabeth
Hrncir, who performed a consultative psychological evaluation
at the request of the state agency. For the reasons stated in
the court's previous memorandum opinion, the court is
unable to agree. As set forth in more detail in that opinion,
Ms. Wood has a history of treatment for depression. (Tr. 510,
511, 666, 697, 698, 709, and 758). Based on the clinical
interview and mental status examination, Dr. Hrncir's
diagnostic impressions included "major depressive
disorder, recurrent, moderate to severe." (Tr. 555). She
assessed Ms. Wood's functional limitations as follows:
Ms. Wood can perform simple and repetitive tasks but may have
difficulty with complex and detailed tasks because of her
symptoms .... Ms. Wood will need additional supervision to
complete work activities on a consistent basis, maintain
regular attendance in the workplace, and complete a normal
workday. Ms. Wood is not expected to have difficulty
accepting instructions from supervisors. Ms. Wood's
symptoms will influence her interactions with coworkers and
the public. Ms. Wood may show a moderate to severe
exacerbation of symptoms to the usual stresses encountered in
evaluating plaintiffs residual functional capacity, the Law
Judge gave Dr. Hrncir's opinions "partial
weight." (Tr. 25). Although the Law Judge found
that Dr. Hrncir's examination "supports limiting the
claimant to simple routine repetitive tasks and low stress
work," she apparently rejected Dr. Hrncir's opinion
that plaintiff will need additional supervision to finish
work activities on a consistent basis, maintain regular
attendance, and complete a normkl workday. (Tr. 25). The Law
Judge noted that "further limitations in the
claimant's abilities are not warranted" since Ms.
Wood "recalled the first and current presidents of the
United States, her birth date, age, address, phone number,
year obtained GED, and age of boyfriend, son, daughter, and
brother," and since she "was able to spell three
different words backwards." (Tr. 25).
court previously explained, it is not enough for a Law Judge
to merely i i "summarize evidence
that [she finds] credible, useful, and consistent."
Woods v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 686, 694 (4th Cir.
2018). Instead, the Law Judge "must both identify
evidence that supports [her] conclusion and 'build an
accurate and logical bridge from that evidence to [her]
conclusion" regarding the claimant's residual
functional capacity. Id. (internal quotations marks
t i and additional alterations omitted)
(emphasis in original). Here, the Law Judge never explained
how she concluded-based on the plaintiffs ability to recall
such basic information as her address, phone number, and
age-that plaintiff could finish work activities on a
consistent basis, maintain regular attendance, and complete a
normal workday without additional supervision. Consequently,
the court remains convinced that the Law Judge failed to
build a logical bridge from the evidence she recounted to her
conclusions regarding plaintiffs residual functional
capacity. See Id. While the Commissioner obviously
disagrees with the court's conclusion, "mere
disagreement does not support a Rule 59(e) motion."
Hutchinson v. Staton, 994 F.2d 1076, 1082 (4th Cir.
1993). Nor do the Commissioner's efforts to provide post
hoc justifications for the Law Judge's decision. See
Frantz v. Astrue. 509 F.3d 1299, 1302 (10th Cir. 2007)
("The Commissioner's post hoc argument supplying
possible reasons for the ALJ's seeming rejection i of Ms.
Youngs' opinions is unavailing.").
court must also reject the Commissioner's argument that
the Law Judge adequately accounted for the moderate
limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace that she
found at step three qfjthe sequential evaluation process.
Citing the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit in Mascio v. Colvin. 780 F.3d 632
(4th Cir. 2015), the court ruled that the Law Judge failed to
explain how plaintiffs moderate limitations in concentration,
persistence;, or pace were addressed by virtue of a finding
of limitation to "simple routine repetitive tasks,
superficial contact with the public, and low stress
work," which she defined as "meaning no high
production quotas or fast placed assembly." (Tr. 20).
The court observed that the ability to perform simple tasks
does not necessarily equate with 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.
instant motion, the Commissioner argues that
"Mascio is inapposite," given that the Law
Judge did not merely limit plaintiff to simple, routine tasks
or unskilled work. Def.'s Mot. to Alter or Amend J. 8,
Dkt. No. 27. However, as previously noted, Mascio
underscores the Law Judge's duty to explain how her
residual functional capacity findings adequately account for
a claimant's work-related limitations. See Id.
Here, while the Law Judge also restricted plaintiff to
"superficial contact with the public" and "low
stress work," the Law Judge failed to explain how such
limitations sufficiently accommodate plaintiffs moderate
difficulties with concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr.
20). Accordingly, the court remains convinced that remand is
appropriate. See, e.g.. Waters v. Berrvhill No.
5:17-cv-00035, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135834, at *20-22 (W.D.
Va. Aug. 13, 2018), report and recommendation
adopted. Dkt. No. 24 (W.D. Va. Sept. 10, 2018)
(concluding that remand was required under Mascio
even though the residual functional capacity assessment
"included other limitations . . . beyond a restriction
to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks," since the Law
Judge did not adequately explain his residual functional
capacity determination) (collecting other cases from this
district); Carter v. Berrvhill. No. 8:17-cv-091277,
2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115474, at *24 (D.S.C. June 18, 2018),
report and recommendation adopted. 2018 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 114037 (D.S.C. July 9, 2018) (remanding for further
proceedings where the Law Judge "failed to explain how a
limitation to 'simple, routine, repetitive tasks not
performed in a fast paced production environment; involving
only simple work-related instructions and decisions and
relatively few work place changes' and to 'occasional
interaction with co-workers and members of the general
public', addresses Plaintiffs moderate difficulties in
concentration, persistence, and pace").
these reasons, the court finds no basis to alter or amend the
judgment under Rule 59(e). Accordingly, the
Commissioner's motion will be denied. The Clerk is
directed to send copies of this memorandum opinion and the
accompanying order to all counsel of record.
The Law Judge's assessment of
plaintiffs residual functional capacity included the
following nonexertional limitations: "The claimant is
limited to simple routine repetitive tasks, superficial
contact with the public, and low stress work, meaning no high