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McKenzie v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 12, 2014

JOHN McKENZIE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

THOMAS M. DiGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

John McKenzie ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or the "Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20).[1] Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that he is not disabled. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I

Background

Plaintiff was born in 1961, has a high-school education, and previously worked as an electrician. R. at 26-27. Plaintiff applied for DIB on October 19, 2009, alleging disability beginning on July 1, 2005 (later amended to October 19, 2009), due to "left arm, shoulder problems, neck injury." R. at 11, 128-31, 139-40, 145. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 83-88, 92-96. On September 12, 2011, ALJ Larry Banks held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 22-48. On November 22, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the amended alleged onset date of disability of October 19, 2009, through the date last insured ("DLI") of December 31, 2010. R. at 8-21. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 4, 2013. R. at 1-3, 7. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; see also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07, 120 S.Ct. 2080, 2083 (2000).

On April 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. Upon the parties' consent, this case was transferred to a United States Magistrate Judge for final disposition and entry of judgment. The case subsequently was reassigned to the undersigned. The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is now fully submitted.

II

Summary of Evidence

A. Bruce Neckritz, D.O.

On April 16, 2010, Dr. Neckritz conducted a consultative musculoskeletal examination of Plaintiff, noting his complaints of "left arm problems, shoulder problems and a neck injury." R. at 314. Dr. Neckritz further noted:

[Plaintiff] had worked for most of his life as an Electrician, almost twenty five years.... At the end of 2003 he suffered an injury while at work. There was a ladder against a house approximately 30 feet extended. A gust of wind caught the ladder and blew it backwards. He tried to stabilize the ladder to prevent it from crashing into a window. As a result of this his left arm was severely injured at the shoulder....
....
He had to stop working on July 3, 2005 as the pain was becoming too severe. Thus it has been five years since he has been out of work.
....
[Plaintiff] describes pain on a daily basis, level seven to eight out of ten. He actually has two types of pain that he experiences. The first type is where his left arm actually feels that it is burning and his hand is on fire. The second type of pain begins in the posterior scapula region and comes through his chest area almost feeling like a knife going through his back. If he tries to extend his neck, looking up... will set off the scapula pain. Recently he has been experiencing burning sensation in the left four and fifth fingers and also occasional numbness in the left thumb.
He normally is left hand dominant but with his left arm problems he has now begun to use his right hand for more functional activities.

R. at 314-15. "He is able to perform his own activities of daily living but uses his right arm more frequently now due to the left upper extremity discomfort. He has developed a tremor in his left arm additionally." R. at 315. "Strength and sensation are normal in the right upper and lower bilateral extremities." R. at 315. "The left upper extremity is limited secondary to pain. He has a significant restriction in internal rotation at the left shoulder. Flexion and abduction are also limited at the left shoulder." R. at 316. Dr. Neckritz noted "no muscle atrophy in the left upper extremity" and that Plaintiff's "[l]eft elbow and hand range of motion are normal." R. at 316.

Dr. Neckritz opined that Plaintiff's "ongoing pain and chronic pain problems make it difficult to work in a competitive environment." R. at 316. "He has taken himself off of narcotic medicines as they were no longer effective for him. He has been through different pain medications but nothing seems to give him any long lasting relief." R. at 316.

B. State Agency Medical Consultants

On May 14, 2010, W. Hakkarinen, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). R. at 318-25. Dr. Hakkarinen opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling. R. at 319. He could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but he could frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. R. at 320. Plaintiff's manipulative limitations with his left upper extremity included limited reaching in all directions, handling, and fingering because of his previous injuries with continued decreased range of motion and grip strength. R. at 321. Plaintiff had no visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, however. R. at 321-22.

On August 12, 2010, another state agency medical consultant, M. Feld, M.D., also assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 340-47. Dr. Feld expressed the same opinion regarding Plaintiff's exertional limitations, but opined that Plaintiff did not have any postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations because of Plaintiff's ability to do yard work and cut grass. R. at 341-45.

C. Hearing Testimony

1. Plaintiff's Testimony

In his decision, the ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's ...


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