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Seneca v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

December 18, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


THOMAS M. DiGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

Emory Wayne Seneca ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.§§ 1381-83(c). Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Pl.'s Mot. Summ., ECF No. 18) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Def.'s Mot. Summ., ECF No. 20). No hearing is deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff protectively filed his application for SSI on November 24, 2008 alleging disability since January 1, 2007 on the basis of manic depression, personality disorder, and seizures. R. at 19, 148, 153. His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. R. at 55-57, 64-65. On August 19, 2010, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 34-52. Claimant was represented by counsel. In a decision dated November 5, 2010, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. R. at 19-33. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision subject to judicial review. R. at 1-5.

II. ALJ's Decision

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's claim for SSI using the sequential process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At the first step, the ALJ determined that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 24, 2008, his application date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: depression, seizure disorder and borderline personality disorder. At step three, the ALJ found that his impairments did not meet or equal the Listings of Impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt, P, app. 1. The ALJ concluded at step four that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, he concluded that Claimant was not disabled. R. at 19-33.

III. Standard of Review

The role of this court on review is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)(1994 & Supp. V 1999); Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1202 (4th Cir. 1995); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, of the evidence presented. Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984). It is such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion, and must be sufficient to justify a refusal to direct a verdict if the case were before a jury. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). This court cannot try the case de novo or resolve evidentiary conflicts, but rather must affirm a decision supported by substantial evidence. Id.

IV. Discussion

Plaintiff argues that (1) the ALJ erred in his treatment of the opinion of his treating physician; and (2) the hypothetical to the VE and RFC were legally improper.

A. Treating Physician Rule

Claimant contends that the ALJ did not support his decision to afford only "little weight" to the opinion of treating psychiatrist Dr. V. Handratta. Dr. Handratta completed a Medical Assessment of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities (Mental) on June 22, 2009 in which he opined that Claimant was generally unable or only had a "fair" ability to adjust to a job in the following areas: follow work rules, relate to co-workers, deal with the public, interact with supervisors, deal with work stressors, function independently, maintain attention and concentration and use judgment. R. at 353. He also assessed a poor to no ability to understand, remember and carry out (a) complex job instructions; (b) detailed but not complex work instructions; and (3) simple work instructions. R. at 354. In support of this assessment, Dr. Handratta indicated Claimant suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). Finally, he indicated Claimant has poor to no ability to maintain his personal appearance, behave in an emotionally stable manner, and relate predictably in social situations and only a fair ability to demonstrate reliability. Id.

At the outset, the Court notes that this is not a case in which the ALJ ignored or simply mentioned in passing the opinion of the treating physician. To the contrary, after fairly summarizing his findings, the ALJ explained his reasoning to afford Dr. Handratta's opinion little weight as follows:

The undersigned assigns little weight to Dr. Handratta's opinion as it is inconsistent with the medical record as a whole and the claimant's statements where he admits that he has never had any issues getting along with coworkers or supervisors. Dr. Handratta's opinion also does not reflect the extent of the claimant's improvement when he takes his medications as prescribed. In addition to being inconsistent with the record as a whole, Dr. Handratta's opinion is not accompanied by treatment notes that demonstrate the ...

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