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Borza v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 28, 2017

WILLIAM BORZA, 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 William Borza 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. 16) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19).[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. 19) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1967, has a high-school education, and previously worked as an automotive salesperson and panel maker. R. at 26, 163. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on January 2, 2013, alleging disability beginning on January 7, 2012, due to degenerative disc disease. R. at 135-42, 151, 162. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 51-79. On November 13, 2014, ALJ F.H. Ayer held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 31-50. On February 3, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of January 7, 2012, through the date of the decision. R. at 9-30. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 27, 2016. R. at 1-8. 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 March 25, 2016, 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

         The Court reviews here and in Part VI below Plaintiff's relevant medical evidence.

         A. State Agency Medical Consultants

         On May 7, 2013, a state agency medical consultant, M. Feld, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 54-55. Dr. Feld 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 54. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 55. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 55. On July 5, 2013, another state agency consultant, Walter Cobbs, expressed the same opinion about Plaintiff's physical RFC, except that Plaintiff's overhead reaching with the right upper extremity was limited. R. at 63-65.

         B. Mariam Razaq, D.O.

         “On August 11, 2011, [Plaintiff] presented to Mariam Razaq, D.O., at Potomac Pain and Rehabilitation Associates for complaints of neck and low back pain.” R. at 17; see R. at 281-85. Dr. Razaq thereafter treated Plaintiff through at least 2014. See R. at 214-353. The ALJ reviewed Dr. Razaq's opinion in the ALJ's decision:

On October [29, ] 2014, Mariam Razaq, D.O., noted she had been treating [Plaintiff] since October 2011 for low back pain with radiation of pain into legs, muscle spasm, restriction in range, inability to sit, stand, or walk any length of time, difficulty sleeping due to pain, and impaired concentration due to pain medication. She noted an MRI of [Plaintiff's] lumbar spine revealed facet arthropathy, lumbar fusion at three levels, L3-S1, with four surgeries total, and an MRI scan of his cervical spine revealed disc degeneration and spinal stenosis. She opined [Plaintiff's] medical condition caused pain and fatigue in the neck and low back that reached levels of severity that would affect [Plaintiff's] concentration/memory and cause an inability to focus and stay on task in a work setting 50% of the day and 80% of the week. Dr. Razaq opined [Plaintiff's] pain and/or fatigue resulted in a requirement for extra rest breaks causing him to be off task in a work setting more than one hour total during an 8-hour workday and that he would require bedrest for pain relief or because of fatigue such that he could not report to work periodically or 5 days a month on average.
Dr. Razaq further opined [Plaintiff] would not be able to work full time at any level of exertion. She opined [Plaintiff] could sit for a total of 2 hours during an entire 8-hour day in a work setting and stand or walk for a total of 2 hours during an entire 8-hour day in a work setting. She opined [Plaintiff] could frequently lift up to 10 pounds, occasionally lift up to twenty pounds, but never lift over 20 pounds. She opined [Plaintiff] could perform simple grasping and fine manipulation bilaterally, but no pushing and pulling of arm controls. Dr. Razaq opined [Plaintiff] could use feet during the workday for repetitive movements as in pushing and pulling of leg controls for limited times.
Finally, Dr. Razaq opined [Plaintiff] had no restriction of activities during the workday involving unprotected heights, being around moving machinery, or exposure to dust, fumes, and/or gases, but moderate restriction to driving automotive equipment and total restriction to exposure to marked changes in temperature and humidity. She opined [Plaintiff's] impairments were expected to last over 12 months from its date of onset and that his prognosis for recovery of function was poor/guarded.

R. at 23-24 (citations omitted); see R. at 311-13.

         C. Hearing Testimony

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in the ALJ's decision:

[Plaintiff's] representative noted [Plaintiff] had four back surgeries and he received a closed period of disability benefits in 2005. He stated [Plaintiff] returned to work and suffered constant pain. He reported [Plaintiff] experienced four car accidents during that time, which he stated [Plaintiff] attributed to his significant pain medication use during that time. He stated [Plaintiff's] physicians told him to stop working. He reported [Plaintiff] takes methadone and took oxycodone in the past. He stated [Plaintiff] suffers concentration and memory deficits, and naps during the day. He reported [Plaintiff] has also now developed a neck problem, in addition to his back problem, but he is unable to get an MRI scan of his cervical spine due to insurance issues. He stated [Plaintiff] additionally suffers from a significant diarrhea problem and that his limited insurance also prevents treatment for this issue currently.
[Plaintiff] testified he had multiple surgeries with his last surgery being a spinal fusion in 1998. He reported he stopped working in 2008 as he started missing work because he “just couldn't make it.” He stated he was having back and neck problems that was [sic] causing a lot of pain. He testified he was having trouble even getting dressed. He reported he started missing a couple of days a week and although they were very lenient with him, they needed someone there so it was a mutual decision to part ways. He testified he drew unemployment benefits after leaving that job. He reported his father brought him to the hearing. He stated he wrecked multiple cars while on pain medication. He testified he tries not to drive at all and he reported he does not have a driver's license at this time. [Plaintiff] reported he receives treatment at the pain management clinic. He stated his prescriptions are generally for 30-day periods and that he is basically out of any other options. He testified he is not sure whether his “stomach issues, ” which cause diarrhea five days a week for a couple of hours each morning or constipation, is due to his medication or not. He reported he was told by “a handful of doctors” that the spinal fusion did not take. He stated he has had MRI scans since the fusion that have confirmed this and that he also has a hole in his right hip from the surgery.
On a typical day, he stated he goes to the bathroom and takes medicine. He stated he usually is done with the bathroom and hopefully able to eat something around noon. If he is having a good day, he reported he sometimes is able to do laundry or other things around the house. He stated he tries to do as much as he can on a good day, but that he typically pays for the activities for the next few days with increased pain. He reported he usually spends about 4-5 hours lying down and frequently watches television, reads, or does Sudoku puzzles. He testified his favorite positions are lying down or walking. He stated he is close to his family and he talks to his mother and father daily. He reported his family comes to his house to watch football with him on Sundays. He testified he is happier working and that he has a happier life when he is able to keep moving. He stated he was told at the age ...

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