United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND
THOMAS M. DIGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.
Sabrina Cavers ("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 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 and Alternative Motion for Remand (ECF No. 9) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13). Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that she is not disabled. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Alternative Motion for Remand (ECF No. 9) is GRANTED.
Plaintiff was born in 1968, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a mail room supervisor, rural mail carrier, loan officer, telemarketer, day care worker, and child attendant. R. at 90-91, 94, 96-103, 196, 385, 496-97. Plaintiff applied protectively for DIB and SSI on July 13, 2004, alleging disability beginning on April 9, 2003, due to depression and a back injury. R. at 58-60, 89, 283. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 34-42, 44.
An ALJ held a hearing on November 15, 2006 (R. at 340-54), and issued an unfavorable decision on December 10, 2006 (R. at 280-94). The Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded the case to the ALJ on December 27, 2007. R. at 295-99. The ALJ held another hearing on May 8, 2008 (R. at 329-39), and issued an unfavorable decision on July 14, 2008 (R. at 13-24). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 19, 2010. R. at 6-8, 11-12. Plaintiff sought judicial review in this Court. Cavers v. Astrue , Civil Action No. JKS-10-1205 (D. Md. filed May 14, 2010). The Commissioner consented to a remand, and the Court remanded the case on August 24, 2011.
The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to a different ALJ on October 21, 2011. R. at 388-91. ALJ Thomas Ray held a hearing on June 19, 2012, but Plaintiff did not appear, so the ALJ continued the hearing. R. at 485-89. The ALJ held another hearing in Washington, D.C., on September 20, 2012, at which a vocational expert ("VE") testified, but Plaintiff again did not appear, although her counsel was present. R. at 490-504. On October 31, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since the alleged onset date of disability of April 9, 2003. R. at 375-87. Plaintiff ultimately withdrew her request for review of this decision by the Appeals Council. R. at 356-61, 367-71. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner after remand. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984(d), 416.1484(d).
On February 28, 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.
Summary of Evidence
A. State Agency Medical Consultants
On January 21, 2005, Dale Peterson, Ph.D., evaluated on a psychiatric review technique form ("PRTF") Plaintiff's mental impairments under paragraph B of Listing 12.04 relating to affective disorders. R. at 204-17. Dr. Peterson opined that Plaintiff's mental impairments caused her to experience (1) mild restriction in activities of daily living; (2) mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 214. Dr. Peterson did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of Listing 12.04. R. at 215. Accordingly, Dr. Peterson assessed Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") (R. at 218-21) and opined that she was moderately limited in her ability to (1) understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; and (3) complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 218-19.
On September 22, 2005, another state agency consultant, Shawn Hales, Psy.D., opined on a PRTF that Plaintiff's mental impairments caused her to experience (1) mild restriction in activities of daily living; (2) moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 248. Because Dr. Hales also did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of Listing 12.04 (R. at 249), Dr. Hales assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC (R. at 252-55) and opined that she was moderately limited in her ability to (1) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (2) perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; (3) work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them; (4) complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; (5) accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; (6) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; and to (7) set realistic goals or make plans independently of others. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 252-53.
Dr. Hales's mental RFC assessment thus stated: "Ratings show mild to moderate limitations in areas dealing with continuity of performance and social interactions." R. at 254.
Residual capacity finds that [Plaintiff] functions in a generally independent fashion and can meet various personal needs from a mental standpoint. [Plaintiff] is capable of completing daily living functions within the constraints of mental and cognitive status. This individual manages within a basic routine. A/C fluctuates at times due to the effects of the conditions. [Plaintiff] appears to have the ability to interact and relate with others socially. [Plaintiff] can adequately negotiate in the general community.
Overall, any limitations in [Plaintiff's] residual capacity would compromise performance on more detailed, complex work, and ...