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Watts v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

October 14, 2014

SHERRI WATTS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]


THOMAS M. DIGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

Sherri Watts ("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 (ECF No. 9) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12).[2] 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. 12) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.



Plaintiff was born in 1975, has a GED, and previously worked as an office assistant, housekeeper, stock clerk, and customer service representative. R. at 19, 30-31. Plaintiff applied for DIB on September 3, 2009, and for SSI on February 12, 2010, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2009 (later amended to January 1, 2011), due to depression, arthritis, obesity, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). R. at 13, 17, 112-19, 163. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 41-44, 54-68. On January 26, 2012, ALJ Eugene Bond held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 13, 26-40. On February 29, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the amended alleged onset date of disability of January 1, 2011, through the date of the decision. R. at 10-25. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 10, 2012. R. at 1-9. 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 July 6, 2012, 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. Opinion Evidence

On September 24, 2010, S. Boyer, Ph.D., [3] a state agency consultant, evaluated on a psychiatric review technique form ("PRTF") Plaintiff's mental impairments under paragraph B of Listings 12.04, 12.06, 12.08, and 12.09 relating to affective, anxiety-related, personality, and substance addiction disorders. R. at 340-53. Dr. Boyer opined 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) one or two episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 350. Dr. Boyer did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of these Listings. R. at 351. Accordingly, Dr. Boyer assessed Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") (R. at 336-39) 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; (3) perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; (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) interact appropriately with the general public; and to (6) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 336-37. Dr. Boyer's RFC assessment thus provided:

Understanding and memory: Intact, able to understand and follow instructions.
Sustained concentration and persistence:
[Plaintiff's] ability to sustain attention and concentration and persist to task completion is moderately affected by her substance abuse and combined psychiatric disorder. She has low frustration tolerance and has difficulty with sustained attention. [Plaintiff] is likely to function best with routine tasks that can be completed at her own pace.
Social interaction:
[Plaintiff] has difficulty getting along with others. She is likely to function best with tasks that do not require group cooperation or frequent interactions with others.
[Plaintiff] has a [history] of poor judgment and may function best with tasks that require little or no independent decision making.
Fluctuations in [Plaintiff's] functioning may be related to substance abuse. Continued abstinence is likely a key component in achieving a positive [treatment] response for residual psych impairments, in maintaining adequate functioning in daily activities, and in being able to maintain the responsibilities of [substantial gainful activity] in a reliable manner.

R. at 338.

On November 3, 2010, S.K. Najar, M.D., another state agency consultant, assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 360-67. Dr. Najar 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 361. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, kneel, and crawl and frequently could stoop, crouch, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 362. She had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, however. R. at 363-64.

On May 23, 2011, Brian Kim, D.O., conducted a consultative musculoskeletal examination of Plaintiff. R. at 374-78. Dr. Kim noted that Plaintiff's "[g]ait is stable using a straight point cane and a left knee brace. There were no signs of instability." R. at 376. "Cervical spine range of motion was minimally reduced.... Shoulder ranges of motion were moderately reduced on the left side." R. at 376. "Upper extremity examination range of motion was minimally reduced at the left elbow and wrist.... Lumbar spine range of motion was mildly reduced in full flexion." R. at 376. "Muscle manual testing revealed 4/5 at bilateral knees due to pain. Grip strengths were symmetrical. Left shoulder range of motion was not fully tested but mild weakness was identified." R. at 376.

Today's evaluation did reveal significant limitations at various anatomical regions. Left shoulder range of motion was moderately reduced to about 50 to 60 percent of the right side. There was some mild weakness in the knee extensor muscles due to pain. Otherwise, there [were] no significant joint restrictions.... Regarding her function, sitting should be well tolerated without significant limitations. Standing and walking however should be limited to 15 minutes on a continual basis. Handling and carrying objects would be limited with the left arm. Hearing and speaking are unaffected. Spine ranges of motion were all within functional limits. No significant restrictions are identified. Motor examination revealed 4/5 on muscle manual testing of the knee extensor due to pain. Left shoulder examination was not fully tested due to pain and moderately restricted range of motion. Her gait was stable using a single point cane. Her weight bearing appeared to favor the right side. She is in need of [a] single point cane at this time. Patient's mobility such as getting on and ...

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