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Simms v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 27, 2017

JAMES ELLIS SIMMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS M. DIGIROLAMO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff James Ellis Simms 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 (ECF No. 15) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18).[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. 18) is DENIED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) is DENIED, and this matter is REMANDED under the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1960, has an eleventh-grade education, and previously worked as a janitor/custodian, groundskeeper, and truck loader. R. at 19, 219, 224. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on December 19, 2011, alleging disability beginning on April 3, 2008, due to rheumatoid arthritis and gout. R. at 11, 167-68, 218. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 76-95, 104-07, 110-13. On March 5, 2014, ALJ Jennifer M. Long held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 27-73. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date of disability to February 18, 2010. R. at 29, 185. On April 22, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from April 3, 2008, through the date last insured of December 31, 2013. R. at 8-26. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 9, 2015. R. at 1-7. 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 July 23, 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 May 16, 2012, a state agency medical consultant, Navjeet Singh, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 79-81. 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 80. Plaintiff occasionally could climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. R. at 80. He frequently could balance. R. at 80. Plaintiff's reaching with his left upper extremity was limited to “very occasional reaching” in front, laterally, and overhead because his left shoulder's range of motion was significantly limited. R. at 80-81. Plaintiff had no visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 81. On December 10, 2012, another state agency consultant, W. Hakkarinen, M.D., concurred with Dr. Singh's opinion regarding Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 90-92.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         1.Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in her decision:

[Plaintiff] testified that he lives with a female friend and grandchildren. He reported that he drives the children to school daily and that the bus brings them back home. [Plaintiff] stated that he stopped working in April 2008 at Prince Georges [sic] County Schools due to back pain. He stated that he underwent knee surgery and subsequently went on disability. [Plaintiff] reported that he suffers from gouty arthritis, which affects his elbows, knees, feet and hands. He explained that his hands swell, and he experiences tightness in the hands. [Plaintiff] reported that he has problems with his feet, stating that his Achilles tendons swell up. He reported that he was previously a heavy drinker, and alleged he had not consumed alcohol in two to three years.

R. at 14; see R. at ...


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