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Smith v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 8, 2017

LINDA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          THOMAS M. DIGIROLAMO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Linda Smith 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 her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15).[2] 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, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1958, has a college education, and previously worked as a trainer, administrative assistant, instructional designer, and personnel clerk. R. at 31-32, 233, 235, 237, 252. Plaintiff applied for DIB on January 19, 2012 (with a protective filing date of January 9, 2012), alleging disability beginning on October 28, 2011, due to fibromyalgia, insomnia, and lupus. R. at 19, 191-97, 235. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 109-31, 134-43. On July 24, 2014, ALJ Jennifer M. Long held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 41-68. On September 3, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of October 28, 2011, through the date of the decision. R. at 14-40. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 14, 2015. R. at 5-9, 13, 333-37. 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 April 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 June 26, 2012, a state agency medical consultant, A.R. Totoonchie, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 114-15. Dr. Totoonchie opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten 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 115. Plaintiff had no postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 115.

         On December 3, 2012, another state agency consultant, Karen Sarpolis, M.D., again assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 127-29. Dr. Sarpolis opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry ten pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about four 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 128. Dr. Sarpolis opined that Plaintiff occasionally could climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. R. at 128. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 128-29.

         On December 8, 2012, Dr. Tanveer A. Padder conducted a consultative examination of Plaintiff. R. at 31, 539-43. Dr. Padder noted Plaintiff's

reported history of depression, anxiety, no prior psychiatric admission who has not been working since October 2011 and after she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and other medical issues. She claimed that she tried to get back to work but she was not able to and she attributes her inability to work on her medical, as well as psychiatric symptoms, mostly on medical. She claims to be very tired all the time and not able to tolerate a lot of sensory stimuli along with chronic pain, anxiety. She has psychosomatic symptoms including headache and insomnia. As per mini mental, there were no gross cognitive deficits.

R. at 541. “Her attention/concentration was fair although she could not do serial 7's but was able to do serial 3's and able to spell the word world backwards.” R. at 541. “Her mini-mental score was 27 out of 30.” R. at 541. Dr. Padder's diagnoses included depression not otherwise specified, “[r]ule out anxiety/mood disorder secondary to medical problems.” R. at 542. Dr. Padder also rated Plaintiff's GAF at 55. R. at 542.[3]

         On December 19, 2012, a state agency consultant, Dawn Jackson, Psy.D., using the psychiatric review technique under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a, evaluated Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.04 and 12.06 relating to affective and anxiety-related disorders (R. at 125-27). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, §§ 12.04, 12.06. Among the opinions reviewed by Dr. Jackson was Dr. Padder's opinion from the December 2012 consultative examination and GAF rating of 55. R. at 126. Dr. Jackson opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listings, Plaintiff's mental impairments caused her to experience (1) no restriction in activities of daily living; (2) mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) no repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 126. Dr. Jackson did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 126. Dr. Jackson ultimately found that “[t]here is no evidence of significant limitation in any [mental-health]-related functional area. [Plaintiff's mental-health] impairment is not severe.” R. at 126.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in her decision:

[Plaintiff] testified that she stopped working full-time in December 2006, because she married and moved to England. After that, she only worked part-time on a military base in England. [Plaintiff] and her husband returned to the United States in late 2009. Thereafter, she worked part-time in the summer of 2011 and subsequently obtained a full-time job. However, she indicated that she was absent from this job ...

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