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Johnson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 11, 2014

PATRICK C. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WILLIAM CONNELLY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Patrick C. Johnson ("Mr. Johnson" or "Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. The parties consented to a referral to a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings and final disposition. See ECF Nos. 4-6.[1] Pending and ready for resolution are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14). No hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.

1. Background.

On September 4, 2007[2] Mr. Johnson protectively filed applications for DIB[3] and SSI alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 2003[4] due to paranoid schizophrenia, high blood pressure and a bad kidney. See R. at 173-83, 222. Mr. Johnson's applications were denied initially on January 11, 2008. R. at 94-98.[5] On March 3, 2008 Mr. Johnson requested reconsideration. R. at 99. On an unknown date[6] the claims were denied again. See R. at 100-03. On September 18, 2008 Mr. Johnson requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 104-05.

On November 20, 2009 an ALJ convened a hearing. R. at 54-64. Mr. Johnson was represented by counsel. During the hearing the ALJ obtained testimony from Mr. Johnson. In the December 16, 2009 decision the ALJ found Mr. Johnson has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 29, 2007 through the date of the decision. R. at 82. On January 19, 2010 Mr. Johnson requested a review of the hearing decision. R. at 132-33. On May 9, 2011 the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ. R. at 84. The Order of Appeals Council, remanding the case to the ALJ, states,

The Administrative Law Judge issued a decision on December 16, 2009. The claimant has asked the Appeals Council to review this decision.
The Appeals Council grants the request for review under the substantial evidence and error of law provisions of the Social Security Administration regulations (20 CFR 404.970 and 416.1470). Under the authority of 20 CFR 404.977 and 416.1477, the Appeals Council vacates the hearing decision and remands this case to an Administrative Law Judge for resolution of the following issues:
• The decision under Finding No. 4 indicates that the claimant has a severe mental impairment with moderate limitations in activities of daily living, maintaining social functioning and concentration, persistence or pace; however the decision does not contain rationale for "B" and "C" criteria rated using the special technique described in 20 CFR 404.1520a and 416.920a.
• The hearing decision does not contain an evaluation of the treating source opinion in Exhibit 2F from Mehdi Ghazinoor-Naini, M.D., dated January 2, 2007. Dr. Ghazinoor-Naini assessed that the claimant is disabled from January 3, 2007 through January 2, 2008, with marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning and "often" difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace.
• The hearing decision does not address the third party statements in Exhibits 6E and 12E in accordance with Social Security Ruling 06-3p.
• The claimant was found to have the residual functional capacity to perform light unskilled work with a sit/stand option. The claimant has limited dominant hand usage. The claimant should have limited public contact (Finding No. 5). However, the decision contains no rationale as to why the claimant has limited dominant hand usage and requires a sit/stand option. Further, there is no vocational evidence in the record regarding the extent to which the claimant's limitations erode the occupational base for light work.

Upon remand the Administrative Law Judge will:

• Update the record concerning the claimant's physical and mental impairments in order to complete the administrative record.
• Further evaluate the claimant's mental impairment in accordance with the special technique described in 20 CFR 404.1520a and 416.920a, documenting application of the technique in the decision by providing specific findings and appropriate rationale for each of the functional areas described in 20 CFR 404.1520a(c) and 416.920a(c).
• Give consideration to the treating source opinion pursuant to the provisions of 20 CFR 404.1527 and 416.927 and Social Security Rulings 96-2p and 96-5p, and explain the weight given to such opinion evidence. As appropriate, the Administrative Law Judge may request the treating source to provide additional evidence and/or further clarification of the opinion (20 CFR 404.1512 and 416.912). Also, the Administrative Law Judge should address the third party statements in Exhibits 6E and 12E in accordance with Social Security Ruling 06-3p.
• Give further consideration to the claimant's maximum residual functional capacity and provide appropriate rationale with specific references to evidence of record in support of the assessed limitations (20 CFR 404.1545 and 416.945 and Social Security Ruling 96-8p). • If warranted upon the expanded record, obtain evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base. The hypothetical questions should reflect the specific capacity/limitations established by the record as a whole. The Administrative Law Judge will ask the vocational expert to identify examples of appropriate jobs and to state the incidence of such jobs in the national economy (20 CFR 404.1566 and 416.966). Further, before relying on the vocational expert evidence the Administrative Law Judge will identify and resolve any conflicts between the occupational evidence provided by the vocational expert and information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and its companion publication, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations (Social Security Ruling 00-4p).
In compliance with the above, the Administrative Law Judge will offer the claimant an opportunity for a hearing, take any further action needed to complete the administrative record and issue a new decision.

R. at 85-87.

A supplemental hearing was convened on November 14, 2011. R. at 33-53. Mr. Johnson was represented by counsel. The ALJ obtained testimony from Mr. Johnson, Mr. Johnson's mother and a vocational expert ("VE"). In the December 28, 2011 decision the ALJ found Mr. Johnson has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 29, 2007 through the date of the decision. R. at 27. On January 25, 2012 Mr. Johnson requested a review of the hearing decision. R. at 7-8. On December 26, 2012 the Appeals Council denied Mr. Johnson's request for review, R. at 1-6, thus making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision.

2. ALJ's Decision.

The ALJ evaluated Mr. Johnson's claims for DIB and SSI using the sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Mr. Johnson bears the burden of demonstrating his disability as to the first four steps. At step five the burden shifts to the Commissioner. If Mr. Johnson's claims fail at any step of the process, the ALJ does not advance to the subsequent steps. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995). At step one the ALJ found Mr. Johnson has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 29, 2007, the alleged onset date of disability. R. at 76. The ALJ concluded at step two that Mr. Johnson has the following severe impairments: "diabetes mellitus, affective disorders, schizophrenic disorder, delusional (paranoid), schizoaffective and other psychotic disorder[.]" R. at 77. At step three the ALJ found Mr. Johnson does not have an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals a listed impairment. The ALJ specifically considered Listing 12.04.[7] The ALJ determined whether Mr. Johnson satisfied the "paragraph B" criteria. The ALJ found Mr. Johnson has moderate restriction in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence or pace and one or two episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. R. at 77. Because Mr. Johnson's mental impairments did not cause at least two marked limitations or one marked limitation and repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, the "paragraph B" criteria are not satisfied. The ALJ then considered the "paragraph C" criteria and determined the evidence failed to establish the presence of the "paragraph C" criteria.

Next, the ALJ determined Mr. Johnson's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The ALJ found Mr. Johnson has the RFC "to perform light unskilled work with a sit/stand option. The claimant has limited dominant hand usage. The claimant should have limited public contact." R. at 78. At step four the ALJ found Mr. Johnson is unable to perform his past relevant work. R. at 81. At step five the ALJ considered Mr. Johnson's age (28 years old on the alleged amended onset date; defined as a younger individual age 18-49), his education (high school; able to communicate in English), past work experience (transferability of job skills not an issue because Mr. Johnson's past relevant work is unskilled) and his RFC (light unskilled work with other limitations). Using the Medical-Vocational Guidelines as a framework for decision-making, the ALJ found Mr. Johnson "is capable of ...


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