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Cooper v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 19, 2014

LAURA A. COOPER, 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.

Laura A. Cooper ("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 her 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. 11), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13), and Plaintiff's Reply (ECF No. 14).[1] 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, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I

Background

Plaintiff was born in 1965, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a janitor. R. at 20, 80. Plaintiff applied protectively for DIB on November 6, 2007, alleging disability beginning on September 26, 2002 (later amended to September 13, 2006), due to depression, lower back problems, a cracked disc, arthritis in the back, high blood pressure, asthma, and a tumor in her neck. R. at 77, 234-40, 254, 258. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 99-100, 124-29, 132-34.

ALJ William K. Underwood held a hearing on February 10, 2009 (R. at 30-69), and issued an unfavorable decision on May 13, 2009 (R. at 101-18). The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review and remanded the case to the ALJ on January 13, 2011. R. at 119-23, 177-84. The ALJ held another hearing by video conference on April 16, 2012, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 70-98. On May 7, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the amended alleged onset date of disability of September 13, 2006, through the date last insured of December 31, 2008. R. at 8-27. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 22, 2013. R. at 1-7. 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 September 10, 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. State Agency Medical Consultants

On February 7, 2008, P.H. Moore, M.D., a state agency medical consultant, assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). R. at 491-98. Dr. Moore opined that Plaintiff 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 492. Plaintiff occasionally could climb and stoop and frequently could balance, kneel, crouch, and crawl. R. at 493. She was to avoid all exposure to hazards, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, etc. R. at 495. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations, however. R. at 494-95.

On June 10, 2008, another state agency medical consultant, J. Johnston, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC (R. at 612-19) and 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 613. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 614. She had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 615-16. Dr. Johnston remarked that her "[a]llegations are less than fully credible and are not supported by the radiographic and clinical evidence in [the] file." R. at 617.

On February 11, 2008, S. Boyer, Ph.D., evaluated on a psychiatric review technique form ("PRTF") Plaintiff's mental impairments under paragraph B of Listings 12.03, 12.04, and 12.09 relating to psychotic, affective, and substance addiction disorders. R. at 503-16. Dr. Boyer 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) one or two episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 513. Dr. Boyer did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of these Listings. R. at 514. Accordingly, Dr. Boyer assessed Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") on February 25, 2008 (R. at 519-22), 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 to (3) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 519-20. Dr. Boyer's RFC assessment thus provided:

Ratings show (mild to) moderate limitations in areas dealing with continuity of performance and social interactions.
Residual capacity finds that [Plaintiff] functions in a generally independent fashion and can meet various personal needs from a mental and cognitive standpoint. [Plaintiff] is capable of completing daily living functions within the constraints of the medical conditions. A/C fluctuates at times. This individual manages within a basic routine.
[Plaintiff] can relate with others and is capable of showing socially appropriate behaviors. Limitations reported in the social domain are due to the nature of the conditions in terms of interactions and relationships. [Plaintiff] is capable of negotiating in the community.
[Plaintiff] retains the capacity to perform work-related tasks from a mental ...

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