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Martin v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 10, 2016

MARIE MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

THOMAS M. DIGIROLAMO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Plaintiff Marie Martin 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 Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11) and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12).[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, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) is GRANTED, Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11) is DENIED, and the Commissioner’s final decision is AFFIRMED.

I Background

Plaintiff was born in 1967, has a college education, and previously worked as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner. R. at 40, 159, 171. Plaintiff applied for DIB on May 17, 2011 (with a protective filing date of May 16, 2011), alleging disability beginning on December 17, 2010, due to breast cancer surgeries, back injury, knee arthritis, alopecia, uterine fibroid, allergic rhinitis, lower back injury, and cancer. R. at 124-25, 159, 170. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 45-70, 75-76, 79-87. On July 22, 2013, ALJ Larry K. Banks held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 26-44. On August 22, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of December 17, 2010, through the date of the decision. R. at 8-25. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff’s request for review on November 6, 2014. R. at 1-7. The ALJ’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 January 10, 2015, 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 September 9, 2011, a state agency medical consultant, A. Serpick, M.D., assessed Plaintiff’s physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 51-53. Dr. Serpick opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten 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 52. Plaintiff occasionally could kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 52. She could balance and stoop without limitation. R. at 52. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 52-53. Dr. Serpick ultimately opined that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as actually performed. R. at 53-54.

On June 5, 2012, another state agency medical consultant, Richard Surrusco, M.D., assessed Plaintiff’s physical RFC. R. at 62-64. Dr. Surrusco opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten 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 62. Plaintiff frequently could balance and occasionally could stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 63. Although she had no manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations, Plaintiff was to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights. R. at 63-64. Dr. Surrusco also opined that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as actually performed. R. at 64-65.

In an opinion letter dated September 9, 2012, Tristan Shockley, M.D., of Metro Spine PC stated:

Item: 1 and 2
[Plaintiff] was initially seen in the office on September 23, 2008 and has been followed up since then. She came with complaints of low back pain with radiation to her left lower extremity. She reports that this has been going on for 8 years now. She has had multiple car accidents in the past and long commute on a bus to work for 4 hours daily. Prior to being seen at this office, [Plaintiff] had several physical therapy sessions which she states did not seem to help.
She came in with her MRI which showed moderate central left parasagittal protrusion at L5-S1 impinging the left S1 nerve root. She also brought her EMG report done by Dr. Rashid Khan which revealed acute S1 radiculopathy on the left.
On physical exam, [Plaintiff] has marked limitation in her lumbar [range of motion]. There is tenderness over the paraspinal muscles. Straight leg raising is positive on the left side. Sensation was intact, strength was normal and DTR’s were 2 bilaterally.
She then underwent transforaminal epidural steroid injection left L5-S1 on 9/23/2008 and was repeated on 10/15/2008. She reported that the procedures helped. She had radiofrequency ablation of the dorsal root ganglia of L5 and S1 on the left on 11/5/2008.
The procedures worked well for her. She was able to go back to work on 1/29/2009 on light duty. She continues to have pain but to a tolerable level.
She continued to work with restrictions. She commutes 4 hours a day to work on a bus. She continues to follow-up in this office. On 6/11/2010 she had trigger point injection done.
She was seen on 2/18/2011 and reported that since she was last seen in the office she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction surgery. During those times, her back pain was aggravated. She has pain radiating down her left leg with associated numbness and tingling sensation[.]
She underwent another series of transforaminal epidural steroid injection which she states has helped. The last procedure was done [on] February 8, 2012.
Item: 3
[Plaintiff’s] diagnoses are: Lumbosacral radiculopathy (724.4), Lumbosacral spondylosis without myelopathy (721.3), Lumbosacral degenerative disc disease (722.52)[.]
[Plaintiff] is unable to perform her core duties as a nurse due to these problems.
[Plaintiff] has chronic radiculopathy brought about by the disc herniation mentioned above. This is complicated by her diagnosis of breast cancer.
Item: 4 and 5
Her illness is expected to last more than one year; no prediction can be made as to when partial or full recovery will be attained.
We are recommending that she is totally permanently disabled and will [be] unable to maintain an employee appropriate schedule in the ...

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