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Flores v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 15, 2018

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


          Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff George Flores 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 and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 15) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21).[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, Plaintiff's alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED.

         I Background

         Plaintiff previously worked as a cleaner. R. at 59, 61. Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and for SSI on March 4, 2013, alleging disability beginning on October 15, 2011. R. at 10. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 86-157, 163-76, 179-91. On January 28, 2015, ALJ Edgardo Rodríguez-Quilichini held a hearing in Orlando, Florida, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 41-64. On March 6, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of October 15, 2011, through the date of the decision. R. at 7-40. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 10, 2016. 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 October 13, 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. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ summarized Plaintiff's testimony in his decision:

At [the] hearing, [Plaintiff] testified that he resided in his car. He claimed he last worked last year for less than 2 months. He indicated he stopped because he had an accident on the job. He acknowledged working in 2012 and 2013 as well. At first, he stated his job in 2012 ended because he was not getting enough hours and then he alleged they terminated him because of his attitude and his behavior. He claimed his worst condition was his mental problems. He testified that he would hear and see thing[s] and he would not sleep. He indicated he last hallucinated 2 to 3 weeks earlier and he alleged his medications were not helping this problem. He reported he [was] treated at the clinic for his hallucinations and while he claimed he was given medication for this problem, he was not able to recall what medications he was taking on his own. He indicated he was depressed and felt hopeless. He also stated he suffered from neck and back pain and severe arthritis that was in his joints and bones. He alleged he had high blood pressure and cardiac issues and he would get chest pains and panic attacks. He reported he had had . . . three stents placed and he would [get] chest pains daily. He stated he used nitroglycerin for this problem and in the past he had had to take as much as 4-5 doses in one day. He also indicated he had difficulty breathing. He claimed he did not smoke and he had not used drugs in a year or longer. While he alleged in an average day he would spend most of his time in bed, as his medications made him drowsy, he also admitted he was able to drive. He indicated he did not watch television or read and he did not attend religious services. However, he conceded he was able to stand and sit for 2 to 3 hours at a time. He testified he had no friends and he would isolate himself and avoided people because he felt hopeless. Although he claimed he did not shop, he admitted he would go to Publix to get a sandwich.

R. at 18; see R. at 45-58.

         B. VE Testimony

         The VE testified that a hypothetical individual with the same age, education, and work experience as Plaintiff and with the residual functional capacity (“RFC') outlined below in Part III could perform Plaintiff's past work as a cleaner. R. at 59-61. According to the VE, his testimony was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.[3] R. at 63.

         III Summary of ALJ's Decision

         On March 6, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of disability of October 15, 2011; and (2) had an impairment or a combination of impairments considered to be “severe” on the basis of the requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations; but (3) did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments meeting or equaling one of the impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; and (4) was able to perform his past ...

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