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Laroche v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 9, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]


          Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Christine D. Laroche 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”) that her disability ended on February 1, 2014. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 10), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14), and the parties' supplemental memoranda (ECF Nos. 16, 17).[2] Plaintiff contends that the administrative record does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that she is no longer disabled. No. hearing is necessary. L.R. 105.6. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 10) is GRANTED.

         I Background

         On May 12, 2004, the Commissioner found Plaintiff to be disabled as of March 1, 2004. R. at 68. On February 21, 2014, the Commissioner found that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of February 1, 2014 (R. at 70-72), a finding which a state agency disability officer upheld on reconsideration (R. at 76-92). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (R. at 93-97), which was held on February 12, 2015, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified (R. at 25-60). On March 26, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff's disability had ended on February 1, 2014. R. at 7-24. On July 27, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. R. at 1-6. The Appeals Council'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 September 21, 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 the evidence relevant to the Court's disposition.

         A. State Agency Medical Consultants

         On January 8, 2014, a state agency consultant, A. Serpick, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 373-80. Dr. Serpick opined that Plaintiff had no exertional, postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations. R. at 374-77.

         On February 4, 2014, another state agency consultant, C. Moore, Psy.D., using the psychiatric review technique under 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a, evaluated Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.04 and 12.06 relating to affective disorders and anxiety-related disorders (R. at 385-98). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 §§ 12.04, 12.06. Dr. Moore opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listings, Plaintiff's mental impairments caused her to experience (1) mild restriction in activities of daily living; (2) moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) one or two repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 395. Dr. Moore did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 396. Dr. Moore thus assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC (R. at 381-83) and opined that she was moderately limited in her ability to (1) understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (3) perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; (4) work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them; (5) complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; (6) accept instructions and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; (7) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; and to (8) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 381-82.

         B. Hearing Testimony

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         In his decision, the ALJ noted that

[Plaintiff] takes 18 or 19 medications per day that cause, among other things, nausea and diarrhea. She makes numerous trips of 15 minutes or more to the bathroom daily. She has seizures once every three months and migraines one to three times a week. She has pain in her shoulder and suffers from bouts of prolonged bronchitis due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She has had a bipolar disorder since 1994 and attended regular counseling until three years ago. She uses sleeping pills at night and still sleeps five hours a day. She has swelling in her lower extremities and elevates her legs 20 minutes. She can sit one hour due to discomfort in her legs and walk 10 minutes. She can lift 10 pounds. She has worsening memory and concentration and does not deal well with stress or work with ...

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