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Getachew v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 27, 2017

SERGAWE A. GETACHEW, 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 Sergawe A. Getachew 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 (ECF No. 15) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16).[2] 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, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1962, has a college education, and previously worked as a convenience store clerk, convenience store manager, and customer service representative. R. at 15, 22, 185. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on December 19, 2011, and for SSI on December 31, 2011, alleging disability beginning on December 4, 2009, due to back and shoulder injury, high blood pressure, diabetes, blurred vision, kidney pain, and a broken ankle. R. at 10, 154-64, 184, 231. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 52-103, 106-13. On February 27, 2014, ALJ Thomas Mercer Ray held a hearing at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 18-51. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date of disability to November 19, 2012. R. at 48-50, 182. On May 15, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the amended alleged onset date of disability of November 19, 2012, through the date of the decision. R. at 7-17. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 12, 2015. R. at 1-6. 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 July 22, 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 5, 2012, a state agency medical consultant, Navjeet Singh, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 57-59, 64-66. Dr. Singh 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 57-58, 64-65. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. R. at 58, 65. He frequently could climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. R. at 58, 65. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 58, 65.

         On November 5, 2012, another state agency consultant, A.R. Totoonchie, M.D., again assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 76-78, 89-91. 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 76, 89. Dr. Totoonchie opined that Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. R. at 77, 90. He frequently could climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. R. at 77, 90. Although he was visually limited in his left eye because of a failed corneal transplant, Plaintiff had no manipulative, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 77, 90.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in his decision:

[Plaintiff] has alleged disability due to vision problems, ankle pain, chest pain, and diabetes. At the hearing, [Plaintiff] testified that his left eye vision has not improved, despite two surgeries. He also experiences recurrent chest pain and heart palpitations, after having had two surgeries. He takes nitroglycerine for chest pain about three to four times per week. Side effects of his medications include nausea, fatigue, and blurred vision. His ...

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