United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
Timothy M. Cain, United States District Judge
plaintiff, Alicia Wyatt (“Wyatt”) brought this
action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the
Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3),
seeking judicial review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”),
denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(a), D.S.C., this
matter was referred to a magistrate judge for pretrial
handling. Before the court is the magistrate judge's
Report and Recommendation (“Report”),
recommending that the court affirm the Commissioner's
decision. (ECF No. 22). In the Report, the magistrate judge
sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards, which are
incorporated herein by reference. Wyatt filed objections to
the Report (ECF No. 27), and the Commissioner
responded to those objections (ECF No. 34). Accordingly, this
matter is now ripe for review.
15, 2014, Wyatt applied for DIB and SSI, alleging a
disability onset date of May 24, 2009. (ECF No. 9-2 at 23).
These claims were denied both initially and on
reconsideration by the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). Id. Wyatt then requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), and on July 22, 2016, the ALJ conducted
a hearing on Wyatt's claims for DIB and SSI. Id.
Wyatt was represented by counsel at the hearing. Id.
On September 23, 2016, the ALJ issued an opinion finding that
Wyatt was not disabled. Id. at 23-32.
decision, the ALJ found Wyatt met the insured status
requirements under the Act through December 31, 2014, and
that she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since May 24, 2009, the alleged onset date of disability.
Id. at 25. The ALJ further found that Wyatt suffered
from the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia and
depression with anxiety. Id. Furthermore, the ALJ
found that Wyatt's alleged headaches and vertigo were
non-medically determinable impairments. Id. at
25-26. In reviewing all of Wyatt's impairments, the ALJ
concluded that Wyatt did “not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.” Id. at 26.
Additionally, the ALJ calculated Wyatt's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) and determined that
she could perform light work with various
limitations. Id. at 27. Based on this RFC, the
ALJ determined that Wyatt is unable to perform her past
relevant work as a loan clerk or teller. Id. at 30.
However, the ALJ found that “there are jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy that [she] can
perform” such as being a small parts assembler, mail
clerk, or housekeeper. Id. at 31. Accordingly, the
ALJ determined that Wyatt was not disabled as defined in the
Social Security Act. Id.
subsequently appealed to the Appeals Council. The Appeals
Council denied Wyatt's request for review. Id.
at 2-6. Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. This action followed.
federal judiciary has a limited role in the administrative
scheme established by the Act. Section 405(g) of the Act
provides, “the findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined . . . as
more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.”
Thomas v. Celebrezze, 331 F.2d 541, 543 (4th Cir.
1964). This standard precludes a de novo review of the
factual circumstances that substitutes the court's
findings for those of the Commissioner. Vitek v.
Finch, 438 F.2d 1157 (4th Cir. 1971). Thus, in its
review, the court may not “undertake to re-weigh
conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or
substitute [its] own judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585,
589 (4th Cir. 1996).
“[f]rom this it does not follow . . . that the findings
of the administrative agency are to be mechanically accepted.
The statutorily granted right of review contemplates more
than an uncritical rubber stamping of the administrative
agency.” Flack v. Cohen, 413 F.2d 278, 279
(4th Cir. 1969). Rather, “the courts must not abdicate
their responsibility to give careful scrutiny to the whole
record to assure that there is a sound foundation for the
[Commissioner's] findings, and that this conclusion is
rational.” Vitek, 438 F.2d at 1157-58.
magistrate judge filed a Report, recommending that the
decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. (ECF No. 22). In
her objections, Wyatt asserts that that the magistrate judge
did not address the ALJ's failure to explain the RFC
calculation in relation to concerns of concentration,
persistence, and pace and did not address the “errors
the ALJ made in his evaluation of Wyatt's
fibromyalgia.” (ECF No. 27 at 2-4).
court agrees that the ALJ did not adequately explain how he
arrived at his conclusions regarding Wyatt's limitations
regarding concentration, persistence, and pace. At step two
in his analysis, the ALJ specifically determined that
“[w]ith regard to concentration, persistence, or pace,
the claimant has moderate difficulties” and that Wyatt
“has difficulties maintaining concentration.”
(ECF No. 9-2 at 26). However, when he calculated Wyatt's
RFC at step four, the ALJ determined that “claimant is
able to sustain concentration, persistence, and pace
sufficient to perform simple routine tasks.”
Id. at 27. As the magistrate judge noted, such a
determination does not account for a claimant's
limitation in concentration, persistence, and pace. (ECF No.
22 at 22) (citing Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632,
638 (4th Cir. 2015)). However, the magistrate judge, relying
on Sizemore v. Berryhill, 878 F.3d 72 (4th Cir.
2007), determined that the ALJ's explanation of his RFC
calculation showed that the medical evidence supported a
conclusion that the moderate difficulties in concentration,
persistence, and pace, did not translate into limitations in
the RFC, and that, therefore, the ALJ's decision was
supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 22 at 27).
the court agrees with the magistrate judge that remand is not
necessary if an ALJ thoroughly explains in his RFC
calculation why the difficulties in concentration,
persistence, and pace did not translate into further
limitations in the RFC findings, the court agrees with Wyatt
that, here, the explanation from the ALJ is “lacking in
the analysis needed for [it] to review meaningfully [his]
conclusions.” See Mascio, 780 F.3d at 636 -
37. First, this case is distinguishable from
Sizemore, where the ALJ assigned significant weight
to various medical opinions and relied on those opinions in
determining that the claimant's limitations in
concentration, persistence, and pace did not translate into
the claimant being unable to “stay on task
while performing ‘simple one, two-step tasks' as
long as he was ‘working in low stress non-production
jobs with no public contact.'” Sizemore,
878 F.3d at 81 (emphasis in original). Because those
limitations were then accounted for in the RFC and because
the ALJ provided a logical bridge between the medical
evidence and his determination that the moderate difficulties
in concentration, persistence, and pace did not translate
into further limitations in the RFC, the Fourth Circuit
determined that remand was not required under
other words, in calculating the RFC, the ALJ “must both
identify the evidence that supports his conclusion and build
an accurate and logical bridge from that evidence to his
conclusion.” Woods v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 686,
694 (4th Cir. 2018); see also Perry v. Berryhill,
No. 18-1076, 2019 WL 1092627, at *2 (4th Cir. Mar. 8, 2019).
Here, the ALJ gave partial weight to a variety of medical
opinions, including the opinions of treating physician, Dr.
Wiley; of psychological consultative examiner, Dr.
Leporowski; and of an unidentified physician at AnMed
Behavioral Health. (ECF No. 9-2 at 29). The ALJ also gave
partial weight to the physical and mental assessments of the
State agency medical and psychological consultants and to the
GAF (Global Assessment of Functioning) scores on record.
Id. However, in assigning each of these pieces of
evidence partial weight, the ALJ did not explain which parts
of the opinions, assessments, and scores he was relying on
versus which parts he was discounting. Accordingly, he did
not specifically identify what evidence he was relying on in
reaching his RFC findings. Furthermore, the ALJ did not make
any logical bridge between his assessments of this evidence
and why he believed that claimant's moderate difficulties