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Thomas v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 16, 2018

CYNTHIA THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND

          Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Cynthia Thomas 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 her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II 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. 18).[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, Plaintiff's alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1963, has a high-school education, and previously worked as an after-school teaching assistant. R. at 42-43, 66. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on October 3, 2008, alleging disability beginning on June 1, 2005, due to depression, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, a lumbar spine impairment, severe low back pain, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, and brittle diabetes. R. at 363-64, 401. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 179-87. On February 15, 2011, ALJ Eugene Bond held a hearing at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 99-122. On April 8, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of June 1, 2005, through the date last insured of December 31, 2010. R. at 125-40. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which granted Plaintiff's request for review, reversed the ALJ's decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings on September 5, 2012. R. at 141-45.

         A supplemental hearing was held on August 16, 2013. R. at 74-98. The ALJ again denied Plaintiff's claim in a decision dated September 5, 2013. R. at 146-69. Plaintiff again sought review by the Appeals Council, which granted Plaintiff's request for review, reversed the ALJ's decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings on November 26, 2014. R. at 170-74.

         A second supplemental hearing was held before ALJ Thomas Mercer Ray on March 9, 2015, at which Plaintiff, her husband, and a VE testified. R. at 38-73. On June 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of June 1, 2005, through the date last insured of December 31, 2010. R. at 14-37. Plaintiff again sought review by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 27, 2016. R. at 4-8. 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 November 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's final 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:

[Plaintiff] alleges disabling limitations due to depression, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, cholesterol, lumbar spine impairment, severe back pain, hypertensive cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and brittle diabetes impairment. She testified that she stopped working because she found herself very tired throughout the day. She stated that she was then diagnosed with sleep apnea, and received a CPAP machine. [Plaintiff] stated that she could not cook, do laundry, or drive, and it hurt to stand or bend over. She testified that her husband does the laundry, prepares meals, and sometimes takes off work to take her places. [Plaintiff] stated that she lives in a three-floor home and has to go up one flight of stairs to her bedroom. She stated that her condition has gotten worse over time.

R. at 23 (citation omitted); see R. at 42-50.

         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 not perform Plaintiff's past work as an after-school teaching assistant but could work as an inspector, mail clerk, or garment folder. R. at 66-70. ...


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