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Media Alerts - Mascio v. Colvin -- Fourth Circuit
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April 9, 2015
  Mascio v. Colvin -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: When a Decision Is Not Enough: Determining Disability Status for Social Security Benefits Requires Explanation

Area of Law: Social Security

Issue Presented: Whether the Social Security Administration erred in denying an application for supplemental social security income benefits when the administrative law judge failed to explain why the claimant was not disabled.

Brief Summary: Bonnilyn Mascio claimed that she was disabled due to a severe degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, and adjustment disorder and sought social security benefits. In 2009, an ALJ concluded that Mascio was not disabled because although she could not perform her past work based on her residual functional capacity, she could perform other work. Mascio filed a complaint in district court, which granted the Commissioner's motion for judgment and upheld the denial of benefits. Mascio appealed, arguing the ALJ erred by: (1) not conducting a function-by-function analysis when assessing her residual functional capacity; (2) not including Mascio's concentration, persistence, or pace limitation in his hypothetical to the vocational expert; (3) determining Mascio's residual functional capacity before assessing the credibility of her pain claims; and (4) not applying "great weight" to her subjective claims of pain.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with Mascio's first three claims and reversed the district court's decision, with instructions to vacate the denial of benefits and remand for further administrative proceedings. The Fourth Circuit stated that the Social Security Administration's disability determination can stand only if "the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence." Here, the court found the ALJ's findings were not so supported, and concluded that remand was necessary because the court was "left to guess about how the ALJ arrived at his conclusions . . . [and] remain[ed] uncertain as to what the ALJ intended." With respect to Mascio's first claim, the Fourth Circuit found the ALJ failed to conduct a function-by-function analysis because the administrative record included two conflicting residual functional capacity assessments and the ALJ did not explain how he reconciled the conflict to arrive at his final determination. As for Mascio's second claim, the court noted the ALJ failed to take into account Mascio's limitation in concentration, persistence, or pace in his hypothetical to the vocational expert when evaluating residual functional capacity, and did not explain the exclusion. The court also found the ALJ's determination of Mascio's residual functional capacity was incorrect because he determined Mascio's ability to work before assessing the credibility of her claims. According to the court, Social Security Ruling 96-8p requires the ALJ to consider Mascio's claims, as part of his analysis of residual functional capacity, and not as a separate assessment. The court did not accept Mascio's final claim to apply the "great weight" rule, which states that the ALJ must afford "great weight" to subjective evidence regarding a claimant's allegation that she suffers from debilitating pain whenever it is supported by substantial evidence, because no such rule exists in the circuit and its adoption would conflict with the Administration's rule to take into account all of the available evidence.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

Panel: Judges Agee, Diaz, and Floyd

Argument Date: 12/11/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 03/18/2015

Docket Number: No. 13-2088

Decided: Reversed and Remanded with instructions by published opinion

Case Alert Author: Jamie Lee, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: David J. Cortes, ROBERTI, WITTENBERG, LAUFFER, WICKER & CINSKI, P.A., Durham, North Carolina, for Appellant. Mark J. Goldenberg, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, R.A. Renfer, Jr., Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Diaz

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/09/2015 02:55 PM     4th Circuit  

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