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Willis v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 22, 2016

PAMELA WILLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          THOMAS M. DiGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Pamela Willis 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. 12) 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, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1954, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a hair stylist and manager. R. at 22. Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on September 11, 2012, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2011, due to head trauma, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and a lack of taste and smell. R. at 206-15, 219, 250. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 73-130, 137-41. On December 11, 2014, ALJ Jennifer M. Long held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. R. at 25-72. On January 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of January 1, 2011, through the date of the decision. R. at 11-24. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 4, 2015. R. at 1-4, 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 August 6, 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. State Agency Medical Consultants

         On January 11, 2013, a state agency consultant, Michelle Butler, Psy.D., using the psychiatric review technique ("PRT") under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a, evaluated Plaintiff's mental impairment under Listing 12.04 relating to affective disorders (R. at 78, 88). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 12.04. Dr. Butler opined that, under paragraph B of Listing 12.04, Plaintiff's mental impairment 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 repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 78, 88. Dr. Butler did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 78, 88. Dr. Butler thus assessed Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") (R. at 79-80, 89-90) 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. R. at 80, 90. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 79-80, 89-90.

         On August 2, 2013, another state agency consultant, David Tessler, Psy.D., again used the PRT to evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairment under Listing 12.04. R. at 102-03, 115-16. Dr. Tessler opined that, under paragraph B of Listing 12.04, Plaintiff's mental impairment 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) no repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 102, 115. Dr. Tessler did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of Listing 12.04. R. at 102, 115. Dr. Tessler thus assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC (R. at 104-06, 117-19) and opined that she was moderately limited in her ability to (1) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (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; (3) interact appropriately with the general public; (4) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; and to (5) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting. R. at 104-05, 117-18. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 104-06, 117-19.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in her decision:

At the hearing, [Plaintiff] testified that she desired to do continuing education. She also testified that she is responsible for collecting weekly rent and making weekly deposits to the owner of the home where she lived with her boyfriend and two roommates. Each day, she drives her boyfriend to his work site. She leaves the van with him, and she goes into a center where she works on the computer. Some days, she takes public transportation to a doctor's appointment. She also testified to using her Metro access and smart trip card to take public transportation.

         R. at 19; see R. at 31-63, 71.

         2. VE Testimony

         The VE testified that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's same age, education, and work experience with the RFC outlined below in Part III could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work but could perform the unskilled, medium[2] jobs of laundry worker, packer, or kitchen helper. R. at 68-69. A person absent from work two days per month would not be able to maintain employment. R. at 69. A person's being "off task" resulting in a loss of productivity of 15% would not be able to ...


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