United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF’S
ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND
M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge.
Wendy Lommel 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 application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are
Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative
motion for remand (ECF No. 12) and Defendant’s Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17). 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.
was born in 1957, has one year of college education, and
previously worked as an inventory control clerk, boat
repairer, and software engineer. R. at 23, 164. Plaintiff
protectively filed an application for SSI on September 20,
2012, alleging disability beginning on August 1, 2010, due to
bipolar disorder, anxiety/panic attacks, suicidal thoughts,
post-traumatic stress disorder, and agoraphobia. R. at
132-39, 150, 163. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s
application initially and again on reconsideration, so
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 51-92, 96-101, 104-16. On
October 9, 2014, ALJ O. Price Dodson held a hearing at which
Plaintiff pro se and a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified. R. at 28-49. On December 10,
2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled since the application date of September 20, 2012. R.
at 13-27. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the
Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff’s request for
review on May 6, 2015. R. at 1-6, 11-12, 228-29. The
ALJ’s decision thus became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481; see
also Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07, 120 S.Ct.
2080, 2083 (2000).
8, 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.
State Agency Medical Consultants
December 11, 2012, a state agency consultant, Pauline
Hightower, Psy.D., using the psychiatric review technique
(“PRT”) under 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a,
evaluated Plaintiff’s mental impairments under Listings
12.04 and 12.06 relating to affective disorders and
anxiety-related disorders (R. at 54-55). See 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, §§ 12.04, 12.06.
Dr. Hightower opined that, under paragraph B of the
applicable listings, Plaintiff’s mental impairments
caused her to experience (1) mild restriction in activities
of daily living; (2) moderate difficulties in maintaining
social functioning; (3) mild difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) no episodes of
decompensation of extended duration. R. at 54. Dr. Hightower
did not find evidence to establish the presence of the
criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at
55. Dr. Hightower thus assessed Plaintiff’s mental
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) (R. at
56-57) and opined that she was moderately limited in her
ability to (1) interact appropriately with the general
public; (2) get along with co-workers or peers without
distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; and to
(3) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting. R.
at 56-57. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited.
R. at 56-57.
11, 2013, another state agency consultant, D. Walcutt, Ph.D.,
again used the PRT to evaluate Plaintiff’s mental
impairments under Listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09 relating
to affective disorders, anxiety-related disorders, and
substance addiction disorders (R. at 65-66, 75-76, 87-88).
See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1,
§§ 12.04, 12.06, 12.09. Dr. Walcutt opined that,
under paragraph B of the applicable listings,
Plaintiff’s mental impairments 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) one or two episodes of
decompensation of extended duration. R. at 65, 75-76, 87. Dr.
Walcutt did not find evidence to establish the presence of
the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R.
at 65, 76, 87. Dr. Walcutt thus assessed Plaintiff’s
mental RFC (R. at 67-69, 77-79, 88-90) and opined that she
was moderately limited in her ability to (1) maintain
attention and concentration for extended periods; (2) work in
coordination with or in proximity to others without being
distracted by them; (3) 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; (4) interact
appropriately with the general public; (5) get along with
co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting
behavioral extremes; and to (6) respond appropriately to
changes in the work setting. R. at 67-68, 77-78, 89-90.
Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at
67-68, 77-79, 89-90.
reviewed Plaintiff’s testimony in the ALJ’s
[Plaintiff] alleges she is unable to work because of
depressive disorders manifested by suicidal thoughts, mood
instability, sleep disturbance, low energy, and social
withdrawal, and by anxiety-related disorders manifested by
panic attacks, irrational fear, and agoraphobia. In her
Function Reports, she noted that her mental impairments
affect her abilities to remember, complete tasks, follow
instructions, concentrate, and get along with others [R. at
At the hearing, [Plaintiff] testified that she became
depressed after she became involved in an abusive
relationship. She and her partner then moved to Virginia and
acquired an old wooden boat (cruiser), which they restored
and began to live in. She testified that she still lives on
the boat alone and does all the maintenance. [Plaintiff]
stated that her biggest problem continues to be fear of
everyone, except for three friends/family members with whom
she feels comfortable. She testified that she is
uncomfortable around strangers and therefore leaves the boat
and marina very infrequently, for trips to the grocery store
about 3 to 4 times a month. Otherwise, she stated, she has
little motivation for activity and just ...