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Huntington v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Maryland, Southern Division

March 27, 2015

GAIL KNIGHT HUNTINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND

Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge

Gail Knight Huntington (“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 Judgment on the Pleadings or Alternative Motion for Remand (ECF No. 12), Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 28), and Plaintiff’s “Reply Memorandum” docketed as a Response to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 29).[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. 12) is GRANTED.

I

Background

Plaintiff was born in 1963, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a real estate agent, water fitness instructor, security captain, software test engineer, network controller, network operations center engineer, and retail security. R. at 140, 151, 319, 322. Plaintiff applied for DIB on October 16, 2008, alleging disability beginning on May 9, 2008, due to back, neck, and hip injuries. R. at 132, 295-98, 318. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 231-44, 247-48. On September 27, 2011, ALJ Thomas Mercer Ray held a hearing at which Plaintiff, her daughter, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 147-87. On December 1, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of May 9, 2008, through the date of the decision. R. at 129-46. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which granted Plaintiff’s request for review (R. at 10-13) and issued a decision on July 22, 2013, finding Plaintiff not disabled through the date of the ALJ’s decision (R. at 1-8). The Appeals Council’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 20, 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. Opinion Evidence

On July 27, 2009, a state agency consultant, S. Rudin, M.D., assessed Plaintiff’s physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 506-13. Dr. Rudin 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 at least two 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 507. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 508. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 509-10.

On June 1, 2010, G. Dale Jr., Ed.D., a state agency consultant, evaluated on a psychiatric review technique form (“PRTF”) Plaintiff’s mental impairment under paragraph B of Listing 12.04 relating to affective disorders. R. at 613-26. Dr. Dale opined that Plaintiff’s major depressive disorder caused her to experience (1) moderate 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 616, 623. Dr. Dale did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of Listing 12.04. R. at 624. Dr. Dale thus assessed Plaintiff’s mental RFC (R. at 627-30) 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) work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them; (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; and to (9) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 627-28. Dr. Dale’s RFC assessment thus provided:

[Plaintiff], amid problems with mood and pain should be able to remember, understand and follow simple instructions given what appears to be adequate cognitive and functional sufficiency as indicated via the [medical evidence of record] [mental status examination], [activities of daily living] and related data. [Plaintiff] appears to have the capacity to maintain sustainability in concentration, persistence and pace at the moderate limitation level in terms of simple tasking and the following of simple instructions. [Plaintiff] has concurrent ability to generally take care of her personal needs, and navigate her social environment when she has to.
Therefore, [activities of daily living] and [medical evidence of record] indicate the presence of a mental impairment. From a psychiatric functional perspective, [Plaintiff] should be able to make adjustments required to perform some type of simple task related functions and activities.

R. at 629.

On June 8, 2010, A.R. Totoonchie, M.D., another state agency consultant, again assessed Plaintiff’s physical RFC. R. at 631-38. Dr. Totoonchie 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 at least two 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 in the upper extremities. R. at 632. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 633. Reaching in all directions was limited because of her inability to move her shoulders. R. at 634. She had no visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, however. R. at 634-35.

B. Plaintiff’s Testimony

In his decision, the ALJ reviewed Plaintiff’s allegations:

[Plaintiff] testified that she suffers from pain in her hips, back, neck, elbow and shoulder. She had difficulty getting dressed but she could prepare meals and was able to drive her sport utility vehicle. [Plaintiff] reported experiencing a lot of problems and was quick to say someone else has to do things for her. She testified that she was able to take care of herself until she got an aide in February 2010. She also stated that she receives the assistance of her daughter who arrived back in the area in November 2010.

R. at 139; see R. at 151-68, ...


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