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Haletsky v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 5, 2014

CHRISTOPHER HALETSKY, 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.

Christopher Haletsky ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or the "Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18).[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. 18) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I

Background

Plaintiff was born in 1974, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a desk consultant, car salesman, waiter, and cook. R. at 33, 44, 46, 202. Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI protectively on September 14, 2010, alleging disability beginning on September 1, 2004 (later amended to April 1, 2009), due to a back injury. R. at 24, 47-48, 195-96, 201. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 72-86, 89-98. On July 18, 2012, ALJ Larry K. Banks held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 39-71. On August 15, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since the amended alleged onset date of disability of April 1, 2009. R. at 21-38. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 18, 2013. R. at 1-5, 13-20. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481; see also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07, 120 S.Ct. 2080, 2083 (2000).

On May 11, 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. Brian Y. Kim, D.O.

The ALJ noted Dr. Kim's consultative examination of Plaintiff:

A March 28, 2011, consultative examination report of Brian Y. Kim, DO, documents [Plaintiff's] ongoing symptoms including lower back pain and muscle spasm with radiating symptoms into the left leg and foot. [Plaintiff] reported difficulty with any prolonged sitting or standing more than 30 minutes, problems with stairs and unlevel surfaces, and restrictions in all aspects of his life including intimacy with his spouse. He further stated that he had difficulty sleeping due to pain, and experienced severe restrictions in mobility and range of motion, as well as muscle spasms in the morning. He listed his past medications including Darvocet, Percocet, Flexeril, Valium, Morphine, Neurontin and Prednisone.
[Plaintiff] denied gait instability, balance difficulties, lower extremity giveaway weakness, or bowel retention or incontinence. He reported that he was 5'11", weighed 285 pounds, and smoked ½ pack of cigarettes per day. Physical examination revealed stable gait without any assistive device or compensation and intact neurological responses. He exhibited reduced range of motion in the cervical spine and the hips bilaterally, but his shoulders were within normal functional limits. Seated slump and straight leg raising was positive on the left at 75 degrees.

R. at 30-31 (citations omitted); see R. at 522-26.

B. State Agency Medical Consultants

On April 25, 2011, S.K. Najar, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). R. at 527-35. Dr. Najar 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 at least two hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform limited pushing and/or pulling with the left foot. R. at 528. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 529. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, however. R. at 530-31. Dr. Najar further stated:

Lives in apartment w/family. Pain hinders sleep. Has difficulty getting dressed and bathing. Prepares simple meals. Washes dishes, vacuums, makes bed. Cannot go out alone due to fear of falling down. Shops once every two weeks. Use[d] to wear a back brace, but does no longer fit him.
[Activities of daily living] credible.

R. at 532. On August 22, 2011, another state agency medical consultant, Esther Pinder, M.D., affirmed Dr. Najar's ...


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