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Free v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 30, 2016

DEVON MICHAEL FREE, 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 Devon Michael Free 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 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. 14), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15), and “Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum” (ECF No. 18).[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 1992, has a high-school education, and has no past relevant work. R. at 164, 169. On December 19, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2005, due to major depression and ADHD. R. at 149-54, 164, 168. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 66-96, 100-02. On December 13, 2013, ALJ Stewart Goldstein held a hearing in Hagerstown, Maryland, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 27-65. On January 7, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since the application date of December 19, 2011. R. at 10-26. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 10, 2015. R. at 1-9, 228-34. 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).

         On May 12, 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 March 8, 2012, a state agency consultant, Maurice Prout, Ph.D., using the psychiatric review technique (“PRT”) under 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a, evaluated Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.02 and 12.08 relating to organic mental disorders and personality disorders (R. at 70-71). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, §§ 12.02, 12.08. Dr. Prout opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listings, Plaintiff's mental impairments caused him to experience (1) moderate 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 70. Dr. Prout did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 70. Dr. Prout thus assessed Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”) (R. at 72-74) and opined that he was moderately limited in his ability to (1) carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; and to (3) interact appropriately with the general public. Plaintiff was markedly limited in his ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, but he otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 72-74.

         On May 23, 2012, another state agency consultant, G. Dale, Jr., Ed.D., again used the PRT to evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.02 and 12.08. R. at 80-82. Dr. Dale opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listings, Plaintiff's mental impairments caused him to experience (1) moderate 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 81. Dr. Dale did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 81. Dr. Dale thus assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC (R. at 83-84) and opined that he was moderately limited in his ability to (1) carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; and to (3) interact appropriately with the general public. Plaintiff was markedly limited in his ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, but he otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 83-84.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in his decision:

In his testimony and written statements of record [R. at 193-200, 226-27], [Plaintiff] alleged disability primarily based upon conditions of depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Despite medication, associated symptomatology reportedly includes social withdrawal, fatigue, decreased energy, diminished concentration, distractibility, nighttime sleep disturbance causing him to sleep until ...

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