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Reid v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 22, 2016

DAMON REID, 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

         Plaintiff Damon Reid 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 his 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 and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 14) and Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15).[1] Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner’s decision that he is not disabled. No hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff’s alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 14) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1976, has a college education, and previously worked as a restaurant worker and accounts payable clerk. R. at 27, 187. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on September 9, 2011, and for SSI protectively on September 15, 2011, alleging disability beginning on September 25, 2010, due to, among other impairments, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, and major depressive disorder. R. at 21, 166-73, 182, 186. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff’s applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 70-120. On October 25, 2013, ALJ Larry K. Banks held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 35-69. On January 22, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of September 25, 2010, through the date of the decision. R. at 18-34. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff’s request for review on March 24, 2015. R. at 1-6, 16, 259-62. 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 May 25, 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 February 21, 2012, a state agency consultant, E. Lessans, Ph.D., using the psychiatric review technique (“PRT”) under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a, evaluated Plaintiff’s mental impairments under Listings 12.02, 12.08, and 12.09 relating to organic mental disorders, personality disorders, and substance addiction disorders (R. at 73, 81). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, §§ 12.02, 12.08, 12.09. Dr. Lessans opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listings, Plaintiff’s mental impairments caused him 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 repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 73, 81. Dr. Lessans then assessed Plaintiff’s mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”) (R. at 74-76, 82-84) and opined that he was moderately limited in his ability to (1) understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (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; and to (4) accept instructions and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors. R. at 74-75, 82-83. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 74-76, 82-84. Dr. Lessans opined: “[Plaintiff] has moderate limitations in social functioning and ability to maintain task persistence due to psychiatric symptoms, substance abuse.” R. at 76, 84.

         On August 22, 2012, another state agency consultant, Yamir Laboy, Psy.D., again used the PRT to evaluate Plaintiff’s mental impairments under Listings 12.02, 12.08, and 12.09. R. at 92-93, 101-02. Dr. Laboy opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listings, Plaintiff’s mental impairments caused him 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 repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 92, 101. Dr. Laboy then assessed Plaintiff’s mental RFC (R. at 94-95, 103-04) and opined that he was moderately limited in his ability to (1) understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (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; and to (4) accept instructions and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors. R. at 94-95, 103-04. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 94-95, 103-04. Dr. Laboy opined:

[Plaintiff] retains the ability to mentally perform at the level cited and discussed in this [mental RFC]. [Plaintiff] can be expected to perform simple and repetitive tasks and to meet the basic mental demands of work on a sustained basis despite any limitations resulting from identified [medically determinable impairments].
a. Can remember simple instructions but has difficulty with more detailed instructions, based on [consultative examination].
b. [Plaintiff] has moderate limitations in the ability to maintain task persistence and follow detailed instructions based on limited available evidence.
c. [Plaintiff] has moderate limitations in social functioning related to psychiatric symptoms, substance abuse.

R. at 95, 104.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         1. ...


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