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Morgan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 27, 2017

TONYA LA'FAWN MORGAN, 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 Tonya La'Fawn Morgan 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 her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 22), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23), and “Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment” (ECF No. 26).[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. 23) is GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 22) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's final decision is AFFIRMED.

         I Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1962, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a school bus driver, fast-food worker, and cashier. R. at 38. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on February 1, 2012, alleging disability beginning on March 17, 2010, due to GERD and leg and heart problems. R. at 32, 198-203, 221. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 104-29, 134-41, 145-49. On November 25, 2014, ALJ Eugene Bond held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 45-61. On January 15, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since the application date of February 1, 2012. R. at 29-44. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 17, 2016. R. at 1-25, 299-300, 643-48. 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 April 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. After the parties consented, this case was transferred to a United States Magistrate Judge for final disposition and entry of judgment. The case then was reassigned to the undersigned. The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is now fully submitted.

         II

         Summary of Evidence

         A. Vinu Ganti, M.D.

         The ALJ reviewed Dr. Ganti's opinions in his decision:

In May 2012, treating provider, V. Ganti, MD [R. at 465-511, 536-42, 561-71, 580-83] opined that [Plaintiff] could sit for one hour in an eight-hour workday, stand or walk for zero hours in an eight-hour workday, requires three 30-minutes [sic] breaks during an eight-hour workday, can occasionally lift less than ten pounds, and is expected to be absent more than four months a month [R. at 461-64]. In August 2013, Dr. Ganti provided another opinion, stating that [Plaintiff] could sit for four hours in an eight-hour workday, stand or walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday, will requires [sic] one-hour breaks “all day, ” can occasionally lift 10 pounds, and is expected to be absent more than four times per month [R. at 549-52]. In October 2013, Dr. Ganti opined that [Plaintiff] could sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, stand or walk for three hours in an eight-hour workday, will require unscheduled breaks “all day, ” can occasionally lift less than 10 pounds, is limited to 25% use of the upper extremities, and is expected to be absent more than four times a month [R. at 553-56]. In August 2014, Dr. Ganti opined that [Plaintiff] could sit for three hours in an eight-hour day, stand or walk for 15 minutes in an eight-hour day, would require unscheduled breaks every 30 minutes lasting 30 minutes each, never lift any weight, is limited to 80% use of the upper extremities, and is expected to be absent more than four times per month [R. at 584-88].

R. at 37.

         B. State Agency Medical Consultants

         On October 16, 2012, a state agency medical consultant, Fulvio Franyutti, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 111-13. Dr. Franyutti 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 limited pushing and/or pulling with the left lower extremity. R. at 112. Plaintiff occasionally could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds). R. at 112. Plaintiff was to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat; vibration; and fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. R. at 113. She was to avoid even moderate exposure to hazards such as machinery and heights. R. at 113. Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations, however. R. at 113. Dr. Franyutti found that Dr. Ganti's May 2012 opinion “relies heavily on the subjective report of symptoms and limitations provided by the individual, and the totality of the evidence does not support the opinion.” R. at 114. Dr. Ganti's “opinion is without substantial support from other evidence of record, which renders it less persuasive.” R. at 114.

         On April 5, 2013, another state agency consultant, J. Biddison, M.D., again assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC. R. at 124-26. Dr. Biddison 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 limited pushing and/or pulling with the left lower extremity. R. at 124-25. Plaintiff occasionally could climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. R. at 125. Although she was to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations. R. at 125-26. Dr. Biddison noted Plaintiff's diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis in her left leg in March 2011 but that there was no significant edema or ulceration on examination in September 2012. R. at 125. Dr. Biddison also found Dr. Ganti's May 2012 opinion to be “without substantial support from other evidence of record” and thus “less persuasive.” R. at 126-27.

         C. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ summarized Plaintiff's testimony in his decision:

[Plaintiff] alleges disabling limitations due to leg problems, GERD, and heart problems [R. at 219-31.] [Plaintiff] testified regarding difficulty with sitting and standing. She reported swelling every day. Sometimes she cannot get out of bed. She goes to the doctor every 2-3 months for deep vein thrombosis.
[Plaintiff] testified that she takes eardrops and nose spray for vertigo; the treatment helps “sometimes.” She is treated for hypertension, and her treatment helps “sometimes.” R. at 35; see R. at 48-57.

         D.VE ...


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