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Carter v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 12, 2014

BERNADETTE SIMMS CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR REMAND

THOMAS M. DiGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

Bernadette Simms Carter ("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 her deceased husband's applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court is Plaintiff's letter brief construed as a motion for summary judgment or for remand (ECF No. 17), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19), and Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21).[1] Defendant contends that substantial evidence in the administrative record supports the Commissioner's final decision that Plaintiff's husband was not disabled before July 20, 2010. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion for remand is GRANTED.

I

Background

Plaintiff's deceased husband, Wesley W. Carter ("Carter"), was born in 1961, had an eleventh-grade education, and previously worked as a hospital janitor. R. at 210, 237, 240. Carter applied for DIB and SSI on January 9, 2009, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2004, due to diabetes, chronic back pain, a herniated disc, and nerve damage. R. at 210-20, 236. The Commissioner denied Carter's applications initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Carter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 28-31, 44-58. Carter died on November 27, 2010 (R. at 308), and Plaintiff was substituted as a party (R. at 306). On September 27, 2011, ALJ William L. Akers held a hearing in Baltimore, Maryland, at which Plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel. R. at 697-704. On December 30, 2011, an ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding Carter disabled beginning on July 20, 2010.[2] R. at 12-25. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 19, 2013. R. at 6-10. 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 April 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed a pro se 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. Plaintiff thereafter filed her letter brief (ECF No. 17), and the Commissioner filed her Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19). On December 17, 2013, the Clerk of Court notified Plaintiff that she had seventeen days to file a response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and that failure to file a timely written response could lead to dismissal of the case or to entry of judgment against her without further notice. ECF No. 20. On January 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 21. The case subsequently was reassigned to the undersigned. The matter is now fully submitted.

II

Summary of Evidence

A. State Agency Medical Consultant

On August 22, 2009, J. Johnston, M.D., assessed Carter's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC") relating to his claim for SSI only. R. at 420-27. Dr. Johnston opined that Carter could (1) lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 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 421. Carter frequently could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. R. at 422. He occasionally could climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. R. at 422. Carter was to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, such as machinery or heights. R. at 424. According to Dr. Johnston, Carter had no manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations. R. at 423-24. Dr. Johnston found insufficient evidence before Carter's date last insured for his claim for DIB. R. at 427.

B. D.O. Lawoyin, M.D.

The ALJ reviewed Dr. Lawoyin's opinion in his decision:

D.O. Lawoyin, M.D., diagnosed [Carter] during March of 2010 with diffuse peripheral diabetic neuropathy with unsteady gait, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus with wide fluctuations. Dr. Lawoyin noted that [Carter] was able to sit but had issues with standing/walking. Dr. Lawoyin did not further detail [Carter's] alleged limitations. Dr. Lawoyin also noted that [Carter] could not consistently climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel or crawl "as would support productive outcome." Dr. Lawoyin also noted that [Carter] was limited in reaching, handling, feeling, pushing/pulling, and seeing, and that [Carter] could not be exposed to moving machinery, temperature extremes, chemicals, fumes, humidity or vibrations.

R. at 22; see R. at 432-34.

C. Plaintiff's Testimony

In his decision, the ALJ summarized Plaintiff's testimony:

[Carter] died on November 27, 2010. The cause of death was listed on his death certificate as "failure to thrive" and hepatitis C. [Carter's] widow, Bernadette Carter, appeared at the hearing and testified that she and [Carter] had been separated since 2005. She noted that [Carter] had substance abuse issues and that he stopped using drugs after ...

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