United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge.
Laura M. (“Laura”) filed this action challenging
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) finding her not disabled and
therefore ineligible for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433,
1381-1383f. Laura alleges that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred by: (1) failing to provide an
adequate explanation regarding his consideration of the prior
ALJ's decision in a prior benefits determination; (2) not
evaluating the effects of Laura's morbid obesity on her
RFC; (3) improperly evaluating the opinions of Laura's
treating primary care physician; and (4) failing to properly
determine Laura's mental RFC limitations.
case is before the Court by consent of the parties pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (Dkt. 8.) The parties have
fully briefed all issues and the case is ripe for decision. I
conclude that the ALJ failed to properly account for
Laura's moderate impairments in concentration,
persistence, or pace, and thus substantial evidence does not
support the ALJ's decision. Accordingly, I GRANT
in part Laura's motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. 15),  DENY the
Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 16), and
REVERSE AND REMAND this case for further
administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Court limits its review to a determination of whether
substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's
conclusion that Laura failed to demonstrate that she was
disabled under the Act. Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171,
176 (4th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a
mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a
preponderance.” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations and alterations
omitted). The final decision of the Commissioner will be
affirmed where substantial evidence supports the decision.
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
remand is appropriate if the ALJ's analysis is so
deficient that it “frustrate[s] meaningful
review.” Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636
(4th Cir. 2015) (noting that “remand is
necessary” because the court is “left to guess
[at] how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions”); see
also Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 188 (4th Cir. 2016)
(emphasizing that the ALJ must “build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion” and
holding that remand was appropriate when the ALJ failed to
make “specific findings” about whether the
claimant's limitations would cause him to experience his
claimed symptoms during work and if so, how often) (citation
omitted). In Mascio and Monroe, the Court
of Appeals remanded because the ALJ failed to adequately
explain how he arrived at conclusions regarding the
claimant's RFC. Mascio, 780 F.3d at 636;
Monroe, 826 F.3d at 189. Similarly, I find that
remand is appropriate here because the ALJ's opinion
leaves the Court to guess at how he reached his conclusions
regarding Laura's mental RFC.
Laura's second application for both DIB and SSI benefits.
She previously filed for benefits on July 22, 2010.
Ultimately, ALJ Frederick Johnson issued a decision on
November 30, 2012, finding Laura not disabled. R. 88.
filed this application for DIB and SSI on March 27, 2014,
claiming that her disability due to rheumatoid arthritis,
fibromyalgia (all eighteen pressure points), anxiety,
bipolar, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, borderline
diabetes type II, herniated disc, and back and neck surgery
began on September 1, 2014,  when she was forty-six years old.
R. 37, 95, 105. Laura's date last insured was September
30, 2014; thus, she must show that her disability began on or
before this date and existed for twelve continuous months to
receive DIB. R. 95; 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(A),
(c)(1)(B), (d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.101(a),
404.131(a). Additionally, to receive SSI, Laura must show
that she has been disabled for at least twelve months prior
to the date of filing her disability application. The state
agency denied Laura's applications at the initial and
reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 95-114,
117-40. On February 9, 2017, ALJ John Dawkins held a hearing
to consider Laura's claims for DIB and SSI. R. 33-63.
Counsel represented Laura at the hearing, which included
testimony from vocational expert John Newman. On April 20,
2017, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Laura's
claims under the familiar five-step process and denying her
claim for benefits. R. 15-26.
found that Laura had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 1, 2012, the alleged onset date. R.
18. The ALJ determined that Laura suffered from the severe
impairments of morbid obesity; diabetes mellitus;
degenerative joint disease of the knee; degenerative disc
disease of the cervical and lumbar spine status
post-discectomy; and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Id. The ALJ found that Laura's alleged
fibromyalgia was not a medically determinable impairment
because the medical evidence did not establish a fibromyalgia
diagnosis as required by SSR 12-1p. R. 18-19. The ALJ
determined that all of Laura's impairments, either
individually or in combination, did not meet or medically
equal a listed impairment. R. 19-20. Specifically, the ALJ
considered listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) and
1.04 (disorders of the spine). R. 19. The ALJ recognized that
diabetes mellitus is not a listed impairment for adults, but
determined that its effects, either alone or in combination
with other impairments, did not meet or medically equal the
criteria of a listing in affected body systems. Id.
The ALJ considered listing 12.15 (trauma- and
stressor-related disorders) for Laura's mental
impairments. R. 19. The ALJ considered the “paragraph
B” criteria regarding Laura's mental impairments
and determined that they were not satisfied, finding that
Laura had: mild limitation in understanding, remembering, or
applying information; moderate limitation in interacting with
others; moderate limitation in concentrating, persisting, or
maintaining pace; and mild limitation in adapting or managing
herself. R. 20. The ALJ likewise found that the
“paragraph C” criteria were not satisfied.
concluded that Laura retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work. R. 21.
Specifically, the ALJ found that Laura could occasionally
crouch, stoop, balance, and climb ramps/stairs, and could
never crawl, kneel, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
Id. She could not work around temperature extremes,
humidity, noise, vibration, or hazards. Id. Laura
would be limited to simple, routine tasks in a work
environment with few day-to-day changes and no work with the
general public. Id. The ALJ determined that Laura is
unable to perform her past relevant work as a retail store
owner, but that she could perform jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy, such as
assembler, sorter, and packer. R. 24-26. Thus, the ALJ
concluded that Laura was not disabled. R. 26. Laura appealed
the ALJ's decision and the Appeals Council denied her
request for review on July 19, 2017. R. 1-3.
alleges that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to provide an
adequate explanation regarding his consideration of the prior
ALJ's decision; (2) not evaluating the effects of
Laura's morbid obesity on her RFC; (3) improperly
evaluating the opinions of Laura's treating primary care
physician; and (4) failing to properly determine Laura's
mental RFC limitations.