United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is the Report and Recommendation
("R&R") (Doc. 16) of the Honorable Erin L.
Wiedemann, Chief United States Magistrate Judge for the
Western District of Arkansas, filed in this case on November
21, 2019. The Magistrate Judge recommends affirming the
Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision to
deny Plaintiff Carolyn Tapp's claim for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.
Ms. Tapp filed objections to the R&R (Doc. 17), and the
Court has now reviewed the entire case de novo,
paying particular attention to those findings or
recommendations to which objections were made. See
28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(C). For the reasons stated herein, Ms.
Tapp's first and second objections are SUSTAINED, the
R&R is NOT ADOPTED, and the case will be REMANDED to the
Commissioner for clarification of the administrative law
Tapp filed her application for disability benefits on June
15, 2016, alleging an inability to work since February 2,
2016, due to macular degenerative disease and pulmonary heart
disease. Ms. Tapp and her counsel appeared before the
administrative law judge ("ALJ") in a hearing held
on November 3, 2017. The ALJ issued a written decision on Ms.
Tapp's claim on January 30, 2018, finding that she had an
impairment or combination of impairments that was severe, but
concluding that her impairments did not meet or equal the
level of severity of any impairment listed in Appendix I,
Supbart P, Regulation No. 4. Then, the ALJ assessed Ms.
Tapp's residual functional capacity ("RFC") to
perform work. In the opening paragraph of Section Five,
see Doc. 10, p. 25, the ALJ stated his conclusion
that Ms. Tapp "has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b),"
with certain exceptions. He proceeded to analyze the medical
evidence and his impressions of Ms. Tapp's testimony in a
dense paragraph that spanned a page and a half of the
opinion. See Id. at pp. 26-27. This paragraph, as
written, could be interpreted to justify an RFC for light
work; but the last paragraph of Section Five states the
following: "Based on the foregoing, the undersigned
finds the claimant is able to perform sedentary
exertional level work within the limits set out in
[Section] 5. This decision is supported by credible medical
evidence of record as analyzed above." Id. at
p. 27 (emphasis added).
above reference to sedentary work were the only such
reference in the entire opinion, the Court would agree with
the Magistrate Judge that it was a typographical error or a
"copy-and-paste" oversight made by the ALJ.
However, the mention of the RFC for sedentary work comes up
again in Section Six. There, the ALJ reviewed Ms. Tapp's
work history and noted that she had previously performed a
job involving light exertion and another job involving
sedentary, semiskilled tasks. Id. at 27. Immediately
following that observation, he concluded: "The claimant
is affected by exertional and non-exertional impairments that
limit her to the performance of sedentary exertional
level, unskilled work as reflected in [Section] 5."
Id. at pp. 27-28 (emphasis added). Under these
circumstances, the Court agrees with Ms. Tapp that the two
references to an RFC for sedentary work conflict with the
ALJ's ultimate denial of disability benefits. It is
unclear how the decision to deny benefits is supported by the
evidence when the RFC determination is inconsistent
throughout the opinion.
these reasons, the Court SUSTAINS Ms. Tapp's first
objection to the R&R, in which she urges the Court to
remand the matter to the Commissioner for clarification of
the RFC determination. The Court further SUSTAINS Ms.
Tapp's second objection, in which she maintains that the
Magistrate Judge strayed into impermissible speculation in
finding that the ALJ intended an RFC for light work rather
than sedentary work. The Court agrees with the Magistrate
Judge that it is more likely than not that the ALJ intended
an RFC for light work; however, the obvious contradictions in
the ALJ's opinion renders it open to reasonable
interpretation. A clear RFC finding is critical to the
decision on whether to award benefits in this case.
Accordingly, remand is necessary because "it is
impossible to tell whether the decision of the administrative
law judge (ALJ) is supported by substantial evidence"
Jones v. Chater, 65 F.3d 102, 103 (8th Cir. 1995).
of the Court's holding, the Court declines to rule on Ms.
Tapp's third objection to the R&R, in which she
argues that the evidence of record supports an RFC for
sedentary work and not light work. The Court is not in a
position to evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence before
the ALJ has the opportunity to clarify his RFC decision and
explain how that that RFC supports the denial of benefits.
THEREFORE ORDERED that the Court DECLINES TO ADOPT the
R&R (Doc. 16), and the case is REMANDED to the
Commissioner for clarification of the ALJ's findings and
recommendations in accordance with this opinion.
 Andrew M. Saul has been appointed to
serve as Commissioner of Social Security and is substituted
as Defendant pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil ...