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McGuinness v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 29, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


THOMAS M. DiGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

Lowell McGuinness ("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 or Alternative Motion for Remand (ECF No. 15) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17).[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, Plaintiff's Alternative Motion for Remand (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED.



Plaintiff was born in 1964, has an eighth- or ninth-grade education, and previously worked as a laborer. R. at 58, 80, 205. Plaintiff applied protectively for DIB and SSI on May 22, 2009, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2004, due to endocarditis, hepatitis C, anemia, intravenous drug abuse, pneumonia, and an inability to read and write well. R. at 175-82, 196, 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 103-06, 108-15, 119-24. On June 17, 2011, ALJ Frances Kuperman held a hearing in Baltimore, Maryland, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 68-102. On March 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since the alleged onset date of disability of January 1, 2004. R. at 50-67. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 3, 2013. R. at 1-6, 24-47. 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 31, 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 September 17, 2009, L. Robbins, M.D., a state agency medical consultant, assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). R. at 573-80. Dr. Robbins 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 574. Plaintiff occasionally could climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. R. at 575. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 576-77. Dr. Robbins found that Plaintiff's "statements regarding his limitations are judged partially credible. The medical evidence does not suggest he has difficulty getting around, OR that he is in pain. So these complaints are not substantiated." R. at 578.

On December 4, 2009, S. Boyer, Ph.D., evaluated on a psychiatric review technique form ("PRTF") Plaintiff's mental impairments under paragraph B of Listings 12.02 and 12.09 relating to organic mental disorders and substance addiction disorders. R. at 593-606. Dr. Boyer opined that Plaintiff's mental impairments of learning disorder, not otherwise specified; borderline intellectual functioning; opioid dependence; cocaine abuse; and alcohol abuse caused him 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) one or two episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 594, 601, 603. Dr. Boyer did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of these Listings. R. at 604. Accordingly, Dr. Boyer assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC (R. at 589-92) and opined that he was moderately limited in his ability to (1) understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (3) perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; (4) make simple work-related decisions; (5) 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; (6) interact appropriately with the general public; (7) accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; (8) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; (9) maintain socially appropriate behavior and to adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness; (10) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting; and to (11) set realistic goals or make plans independently of others. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 589-90. Dr. Boyer's RFC assessment thus provided:

[Plaintiff] has mild limitations in performing [activities of daily living]. Trouble sleeping due to pain, dressing difficulty (bending/lifting arms), can't get in & out of bath tub, needs reminders to care for personal hygiene, doesn't prepare meals because he can't remember how, no chores, goes out daily, drives, shops in stores for food [two times a week], able to pay bills & count change, doesn't have accounts, watches tv, doesn't spend time [with] others.
[Plaintiff] has moderate restrictions in social functioning. Limited knowledge of social norms and substance abuse may diminish his social interaction and adaptation.
[Plaintiff] has moderate restrictions in concentration, pace and persistence. Able to understand and follow simple instructions independently. Generally functioning in the Borderline range of intelligence. Exhibited weakness in spelling and reading and a relative strength in math. [Plaintiff] has a [history] of poor judgment and ...

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