Friend v. Commissioner of Social Security
Letter/Order denying 13 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 14 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; reversing in part SSA's Judgment; remanding this case for further proceedings; directing the Clerk to close this case. Signed by Magistrate Judge Gina L Simms on 4/12/2018. (jf3s, Deputy Clerk) Flagged as an Opinion on 4/12/2018 (jf3s, Deputy Clerk).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
THE HONORABLE GINA L. SIMMS
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
6500 CHERRYWOOD LANE
GREENBELT, MARYLAND 20770
(301) 344-0627 PHONE
(301) 344-8434 FAX
April 12, 2018
Karl E. Osterhout
Osterhout Disability Law, LLC
521 Cedar Way, Suite 200
Oakmont, PA 15139
Cassia Weiner Parson
Special Assistant United States Attorney
Social Security Administration Ofc. Of
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21235
Friend v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.1
Civil No.: 1:17-cv-01460-GLS
Pending before this Court, by the parties’ consent, are Motions for Summary Judgment.
(ECF 3, 6, 13, 14). The Court must uphold the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)’s
decision if it is 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. This Court shall not “reweigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment” for that
of the SSA. Id. Upon review of the pleadings and the record, the Court finds that no hearing is
necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, both Motions are DENIED and the
SSA’s judgment is remanded for further consideration.
Plaintiff filed a Title II Application for Disability Insurance Benefits on December 2,
2013 , alleging the onset of disability on July 30, 2010. (Tr. 13). Plaintiff’s application was
denied initially (March 2, 2011), and upon reconsideration (June 26, 2014), by the SSA. Id.
Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on July 31, 2014 that was granted and conducted on
March 23, 2016 by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Tierney Carlos. Id. The ALJ issued a
decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled on May 31, 2016. (Tr. 10). The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff’s request for review on April 6, 2017. (Tr. 1). Accordingly, the ALJ’s decision
Currently, the position of Commissioner of the Social Security Administration is vacant, and most duties are
fulfilled by Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, performing the duties and functions not
reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security.
A prior application was filed on August 4, 2010 and dismissed by another Administrative Law Judge on July 26,
2013. This date reflects a second application by claimant.
Friend v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.
April 12, 2018
became final and reviewable decision of the SSA. Id.
Plaintiff filed her appeal to this Court on May 30, 2017. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff contends
that the ALJ’s failure to evaluate all medical conditions at step two resulted in a denial of
benefits not supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 13-2 at 4).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not address her diagnoses of complex regional pain
syndrome (“CRPS”) and seizure disorder in his evaluation of her impairments at step two, which
subsequently affected the residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) determination and the ultimate
denial of benefits. Id. Defendant argues that any such error, if it exists, was harmless. (ECF 141 at 5–11). The ALJ’s failure to discuss the seizure disorder at step two was not harmless error.
It is well settled in the Fourth Circuit that an ALJ’s decision should include a “narrative
discussion describing how the evidence supports each conclusion citing specific medical facts . .
. and nonmedical evidence.” Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 636 (4th Cir. 2015). The ALJ must
then build “an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.” Petry v.
Comm’r, Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 16-464, 2017 WL 680379, at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 21, 2017). In
Mascio, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded when it was unable to determine how the ALJ
arrived at the conclusions about claimant’s ability to perform relevant functions and was
uncertain as to the ALJ’s intent. See Mascio, 780 F.3d at 637. The Fourth Circuit applied this
principle to an ALJ’s analysis of mental impairments in Patterson v. Commissioner, 846 F.3d
656, 662 (4th Cir. 2017), finding that “because [it] cannot review the ALJ’s mental-impairment
evaluation, [it] cannot say that he properly assessed Patterson’s RFC.” This error in Patterson
was not harmless because it affected many of the ALJ’s subsequent conclusions beyond step
two. See id. The ALJ is required to consider all of a claimant’s impairments when assessing the
claimant’s RFC. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1545(a)(2). This Court has found that a failure to evaluate a
claimant’s medical diagnosis results in an insufficient record for review. See Krause v. Comm’r,
No. 16-2530, 2017 WL 371902, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 25, 2017) (“[T]he ALJ entirely failed to
consider Mr. Krause’s mental diagnosis, and remand is required as a result.”).
Here, despite evidence in the record of a seizure disorder3, the ALJ did not consider it in
his analysis. Claimant testified before the ALJ regarding her seizure disorder. (Tr. 60–62). The
medical records also reflect this diagnosis. (B8F at 1–3). Yet the ALJ identifies only physical
impairments at step two of his analysis. (Tr. 15–16, 21). The ALJ summarizes his findings by
noting limitations from “the combined effects of [claimant’s] physical impairments,” but says
nothing as to her mental impairments. (Tr. 21). Because the ALJ failed to explain his reasoning
for omitting the seizure disorder, and that failure then affected the ALJ’s RFC determination, the
Court remands the decision for further explanation. In remanding, the Court expresses no
opinion as to whether the ALJ’s ultimate conclusion denying benefits is correct or incorrect.
In my view, the law holds that the ALJ’s lack of discussion about the seizure disorder is enough for remand for
further proceedings. I do not address the ALJ’s alleged failure to discuss claimant’s CRPS, but note that the medical
records reflect symptoms of possible CRPS without any certainty as to an actual diagnosis.
Friend v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.
April 12, 2018
For the reasons set forth above, Ms. Friend’s Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No.
13), is DENIED and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 14), is DENIED.
Pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the SSA’s judgment is REVERSED IN PART
due to inadequate analysis. The case is REMANDED for further proceedings in accordance with
this opinion. The clerk is directed to CLOSE this case.
Despite the informal nature of this letter, it should be flagged as an opinion and docketed
as an order.
The Honorable Gina L. Simms
United States Magistrate Judge
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