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Seaward v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 6, 2014

WILLIE SEAWARD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

THOMAS M. DiGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

Willie Seaward ("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 his 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. 14) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23).[2] 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, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I

Background

Plaintiff was born in 1964, has a high-school education, and previously worked as an automotive mechanic. R. at 19. Plaintiff applied for DIB protectively on March 18, 2004, alleging disability beginning on July 18, 2000, due to back and leg injuries. R. at 14, 78-80, 87-88. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 26-35, 37-38.

An ALJ held a hearing on May 10, 2006 (R. at 372-418), and issued an unfavorable decision on August 21, 2006 (R. at 12-20). On May 4, 2007, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. R. at 5-7, 11. Plaintiff sought judicial review in this Court. Seaward v. Astrue, Civil No. JKS 07-1709 (D. Md. filed June 28, 2007). Upon the Commissioner's consent, the Court remanded the case on June 4, 2008. R. at 440-41.

The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case on July 27, 2008. R. at 442-44. The ALJ held a hearing on October 21, 2008 (R. at 474-93), and issued an unfavorable decision on November 26, 2008 (R. at 419-38, 522-39). Plaintiff again sought judicial review in this Court. Seaward v. Astrue, Civil No. JKS 09-579 (D. Md. filed Mar. 9, 2009). Upon the Commissioner's consent, the Court remanded the case on July 12, 2010.

The Appeals Council remanded the case to a different ALJ on March 8, 2011. R. at 540-44. ALJ C.J. Sturek held a hearing on December 22, 2011, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 876-903. On March 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of July 18, 2000, through the date last insured of December 31, 2005. R. at 504-21. On July 18, 2012, Plaintiff filed exceptions to the decision with the Appeals Council (R. at 498-99), which declined to assume jurisdiction on September 25, 2012 (R. at 494-97). The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner after remand. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(b)(2).

On November 29, 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.

II

Summary of Evidence

A. State Agency Medical Consultants

On February 7, 2005, James Biddison, M.D., a state agency medical consultant, assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). R. at 323-30. Dr. Biddison 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 324. Plaintiff occasionally could climb, stoop, and kneel. R. at 325. He frequently could balance, crouch, and crawl. R. at 325. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, however. R. at 326-27.

On August 31, 2005, another state agency medical consultant, Mark Feld, M.D., also assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 332-39. Dr. Feld 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 333. Although Dr. Feld also opined that Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, the doctor determined that Plaintiff occasionally could stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. R. at 334-36.

B. Hearing Testimony

1. Plaintiff's Testimony

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

At the hearing, [Plaintiff] testified that he is unable to work due to back pain that he suffered between 2000 and 2005. He indicated that he was prescribed a cane in 2001. He testified that he used a cane to walk or stand during the relevant period. He also testified that he spent half of his day lying down, due to pain, and that he would only be active for an hour before he would have to lie down. In addition, he testified he could sit... for fifteen to twenty minutes, or up to an hour, and that he could stand for five minutes to relieve pressure on his back.
[Plaintiff] testified further that he suffered from numbness in his hands during the relevant time period.
In terms of activities of daily living, he testified that he drove a vehicle from 2000 to 2005 and would visit his parents, who live approximately fifteen miles away from him. He indicated he drove approximately once per week. He indicated that he performed no household chores, but shopped for groceries with his wife. He also testified that he watched television and attended church twice per month, which lasted for approximately two hours. He testified that he does not read and has no hobbies. Other than physical therapy, he indicated that he does not exercise.
To help him sleep during the night, he testified that he would take medication. He indicated that he slept approximately five hours per night and would sleep during the day, due to medication. With respect to side effects from his medication (Vicodin and Motrin), he testified that he experiences drowsiness. While he indicated that the medication relieved his pain for approximately four hours, he also indicated that the medication did ...

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