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Dobson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 29, 2016

JOHN W. DOBSON, 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 John W. Dobson 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. 13), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16), and Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17).[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. 13) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1960, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a shipping and receiving worker, produce stock clerk, and restaurant manager. R. at 24-25, 158, 170. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on February 3, 2012, alleging disability beginning on January 26, 2012, due to vertigo, deafness in the left ear, and “giddiness.” R. at 131-37, 155, 169. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 56-87, 91. On March 6, 2014, ALJ Michael A. Krasnow held a hearing at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 27-55. On April 25, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of January 26, 2012, through the date of the decision. R. at 14-26. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 5, 2015. R. at 1-6. 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 September 17, 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 April 20, 2012, a state agency medical consultant, W. Hakkarinen, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 73-76. Dr. Hakkarinen opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six 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 74. Because of Plaintiff's subjective episodes of vertigo, he occasionally could balance, but he could stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs without limit. R. at 74. He could not, however, climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. R. at 74. Plaintiff had no manipulative or visual limitations, but his hearing was limited in his left ear, and he was to avoid concentrated exposure to noise, vibration, and hazards, such as machinery and heights, because of his unilateral hearing loss. R. at 74-75.

         On October 2, 2012, another state agency consultant, Aroon Suansilppongse, M.D., using the psychiatric review technique under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a, evaluated Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listing 12.04 relating to affective disorders (R. at 61). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 12.04. Dr. Suansilppongse opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listing, 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 61. Dr. Suansilppongse did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listing. R. at 61. Dr. Suansilppongse thus assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC (R. at 64-67) 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; (4) interact appropriately with the general public; (5) accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; (6) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; and to (7) set realistic goals or make plans independently of others. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 65-66.

         On December 18, 2012, another state agency consultant, J. Biddison, M.D., again assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 62-64. Dr. Biddison opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six 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 62-63. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, and he frequently could stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 63. Plaintiff had no manipulative or visual limitations, but his hearing was limited in his left ear, and he was to avoid concentrated exposure to noise, vibration, and hazards, such as machinery and heights, because of his unilateral hearing loss and vertigo. R. at 63-64.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in his decision:

[Plaintiff] alleges disability due to anxiety, deafness of the left ear, vertigo and feelings of dizziness. In his function report he stated that he was extremely nauseous most days and that he was unable to predict the days he was nauseated. He reported that his abilities to read, write and concentrate are limited due to the nausea.
In a function report dated March 31, 2012, [Plaintiff] stated that he feels nauseous from the moment he wakes until he goes to bed. [R. at 193.] He reported he becomes dizzy when he showers, and that he spends most of his time in bed. [R. at 194.] [Plaintiff] reported that he stated that he handled change in routine poorly since suffering from vertigo. [R. at 199.] Plaintiff stated that he is often jumpy and nervous due to vertigo. He reported that he wears glasses and has done so since 1985. [R. at 199.] [Plaintiff] stated that his condition has changed his life for the worse and that he is ...

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