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Gale v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 6, 2016

IVY GALE, 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 Ivy Gale 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 1965, has a high-school education, and previously worked as an account clerk and retail store manager. R. at 20, 197-98. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on June 28, 2011, and protectively filed an application for SSI on March 7, 2012, alleging disability beginning on May 18, 2011, due to multiple sclerosis; numbness in the legs, feet, arms, hands, and fingers; high blood pressure; and neck and body pain. R. at 13, 162-72, 192, 196. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 45-88, 96-112. On September 13, 2013, ALJ F.H. Ayer held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 23-44. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date of disability to January 1, 2012. R. at 26-27. On September 26, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the amended alleged onset date of disability of January 1, 2012, through the date of the decision. R. at 10-21. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff’s request for review on June 1, 2015. R. at 1-3, 6-9. 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 July 31, 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 September 29, 2011, a state agency medical consultant, H. Stevens, M.D., assessed Plaintiff’s physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 49-50. Dr. Stevens 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 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 49. Plaintiff had no postural, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, but her handling and fingering with the right upper extremity were limited. R. at 49-50. Her feeling in both extremities was limited. R. at 50.

         On July 12, 2012, another state agency consultant, John Sadler, M.D., again assessed Plaintiff’s physical RFC. R. at 61-63, 74-76. Dr. Sadler opined that, because of her history of multiple sclerosis, hypertension, and carpal tunnel syndrome, Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about 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 61, 74. Plaintiff could never crawl, but she frequently could balance and occasionally could stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 62, 75. She had no visual or communicative limitations, but her handling, fingering, and feeling were limited in her right upper extremity, and she was to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat, vibration, and hazards. R. at 62-63, 75-76.

         B. Hearing 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 (plus a limitation to “occasionally handle, finger, and feel with the dominant right upper extremity”) could not perform Plaintiff’s past relevant work but could perform the unskilled, sedentary[2] jobs of security worker, finish machine tender, or quality-control worker. R. at 27-30. A person’s functioning at 80% or less compared to other individuals performing similar tasks would not be employable. R. at 31. A person absent from work two days per month would not be employable. R. at 31. With the exception of his testimony regarding productivity, absenteeism, and a sit-stand option, the VE’s testimony was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles[3] (the “DOT”). R. at 29-31.

         Plaintiff then testified that daily pain prevented her from working. R. at 34. She would have three or four “bad days” in a week during which she would experience numbness in her fingers affecting her ability to grasp objects. R. at 34-35. Her numbness in her hands affected her ability to cook. R. at 36. The numbness in her feet affected her ability to walk, and she could stand for twenty minutes. R. at 36-37. Her pain interfered with her ability to fall asleep quickly. R. at 37-38. She had worn braces for two years. R. at 38.

         Plaintiff further testified that she had difficulty with concentrating and focusing. R. at 39. When she is stressed and must leave her home, her pain is “a seven or eight.” R. at 40. According to Plaintiff, she stopped working because her multiple sclerosis worsened, and she could not return to work because a stressful environment would exacerbate her condition. R. at 40-42.

         III Summary of ALJ’s Decision

         On September 26, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date of disability of January 1, 2012; and (2) had an impairment or a combination of impairments considered to be “severe” on the basis of the requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations; but (3) did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments meeting or equaling one of the impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; and (4) was unable to perform her past relevant work; but (5) could perform other work in the national economy, such as a security worker, ...


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