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Rice v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 8, 2015

RUTH ANN RICE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


THOMAS M. DiGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

Ruth Rice ("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 or Alternative Motion for Remand (ECF No. 11) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13).[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, Plaintiff's Alternative Motion for Remand (ECF No. 11) is GRANTED.



Plaintiff was born in 1959, has an eleventh-grade education, and previously worked as a school bus driver. R. at 28-29. Plaintiff applied protectively for DIB and SSI on September 20, 2010, alleging disability beginning on September 26, 2007 (later amended to October 3, 2008), due to a back injury, right arm and shoulder injuries, right hip and leg pain, a brain tumor, asthma, colon disease, and acid reflux disease. R. at 109-22, 141-42, 146. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration; consequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 62-74, 77-82. On June 11, 2012, ALJ Thomas Mercer Ray held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 24-61. On August 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since the amended alleged onset date of disability of October 3, 2008. R. at 8-23. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 17, 2013. R. at 3-7. 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 December 17, 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. Alla Taller, M.D.

On December 15, 2010, Plaintiff underwent a consultative psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Taller, which the ALJ summarized in his decision:

A psychiatric evaluation of [Plaintiff] was performed by Alla Taller, M.D. on December 15, 2010 at the request of the Maryland Disability Determination Services to evaluate [Plaintiff's] complaint of anxiety. [Plaintiff] reported that she came alone and drove her own car to the interview. She complained of experiencing pain in her lower back and stated that movements in her right shoulder are limited. [Plaintiff] also complained of experiencing episodes consistent with panic attacks when she gets short of breath and which happens about twice a week. [Plaintiff] reported that she was never treated by a psychiatrist and never experienced symptoms of depression or suicidal ideation. Upon examination, Dr. Taller noted that [Plaintiff] did not appear in any physical distress although she rated the pain in her lower back as 6/10. Her speech was coherent and normal in tone, rate, and volume. Her affect was somewhat quiet, euthymic, and mood congruent, and her thought process was goal directed. She denied feelings of worthlessness and she denied suicidal ideations. She was oriented to the exact date and the day of the week, and she demonstrated average fund of knowledge and intelligence. Her capacity for abstract thinking was intact and her judgment and insight were fair to good. Dr. Taller diagnosed [Plaintiff] with a history of anxiety disorder. She stated that [Plaintiff's] capacity for understanding was preserved, her short-term memory and sustained concentration were adequate, and her social interaction was normal.

R. at 15; see R. at 349-54.

B. State Agency Medical Consultants

On December 28, 2010, A. Serpick, M.D., a state agency medical consultant, assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC"). R. at 355-63. Dr. Serpick 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 limited pushing and/or pulling with the upper extremities. R. at 356. Plaintiff frequently could climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. R. at 357. Plaintiff's reaching was limited because of her right shoulder, but she had no visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 358-59.

On January 4, 2011, K. Wessel, Ed.D., evaluated on a psychiatric review technique form ("PRTF") Plaintiff's mental impairments under paragraph B of Listing 12.06 relating to anxiety-related disorders. R. at 368-81. Dr. Wessel opined that Plaintiff's anxiety 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 378. Dr. Wessel did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of Listing 12.06. R. at 379. Accordingly, Dr. Wessel assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC (R. at 364-67) and opined that she was moderately limited in her ability to (1) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods and to (2) 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 364-65. Dr. Wessel's RFC assessment thus provided:

Evidence appears credible and shows the presence of a Severe Mental Impairment using listing 12.06.
[Mental RFC] assessment is made as the condition does not meet or equal a listed impairment. Ratings show moderate limitations in areas dealing with ...

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