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Hedgepeth v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 28, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Thomas M. DiGirolamo, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Samuel Leo Hedgepeth 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 his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 14), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15), and Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16).[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 1950, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a security guard, van driver, school bus driver, warehouse worker, and industrial park operator. R. at 24, 33, 198-99. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on September 29, 2011, alleging disability beginning on August 1, 2011, due to a pinched nerve in his back. R. at 171-77, 194, 198. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 79-109, 114-19. On October 7, 2013, ALJ Robert W. Young held a hearing in Baltimore, Maryland, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 30-78. On November 27, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of August 1, 2011, through the date of the decision. R. at 15-29. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 26, 2015. R. at 1-6, 10-11, 258-60. 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 May 4, 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

         The Court reviews here and in Part VI below Plaintiff's relevant medical evidence.

         A. Opinion Evidence

         On December 27, 2011, a state agency medical consultant, Judy Kleppel, M.D., opined that Plaintiff's back impairment was not severe and thus did not assess his residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 82-83, 88-89.

         On March 5, 2012, an MRI of Plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed, among other things, “left-sided disc herniations at ¶ 3-4, L4-5, and L5-S1. This is most significant at ¶ 5-S1 where there is a left paracentral disc extrusion [?] which impinges the left S1 nerve root.” R. at 347, 348.

         On July 24, 2012, Lawrence Honick, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, conducted a consultative examination of Plaintiff. R. at 328-34; see R. at 22. Dr. Honick noted:

Currently [Plaintiff] complains of constant severe pain in the entire left side of his body beginning in his neck and involving his left arm, chest, back, left hip and entire left lower extremity. There is occasional numbness in the left hand, and constant numbness over the medial aspect of the right thigh and leg.

R. at 328. On physical examination of Plaintiff, Dr. Honick noted:

Examination of the back reveals no abnormalities of curvature. Moderate tenderness is noted throughout the lower back, mostly on the left, without spasm. Motion is limited as noted. The straight-leg-raising test is negative, and no motor deficits are noted in the lower extremities. He has full range of motion of the hips without pain.

R. at 329.[2] Dr. Honick recommended X-rays and MRI scans of both the cervical and lumbar spines, as well as X-rays of the pelvis, including the left hip. R. at 329. Dr. Honick found no convincing evidence of any work restrictions on a musculoskeletal basis. R. at 329.

         On July 26, 2012, another state agency consultant, M. Feld, M.D., again opined that Plaintiff's impairment was not severe. R. at 96, 103.

         B. ...

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