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Nelson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 30, 2018

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



         Plaintiff William A. Nelson, III 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 for 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. 16).[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 was born in 1966, has a ninth-grade education, and previously worked as a cemetery worker. R. at 29, 46. Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and for SSI on May 8, 2013, alleging disability beginning on February 14, 2012, due to a herniated disc in his neck and to back, shoulder, and arm pain. R. at 17, 19. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 68-117, 122-30. On February 17, 2016, ALJ Francine L. Applewhite held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 37-67. On March 18, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of February 14, 2012, through the date of the decision. R. at 14-36. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 21, 2016. R. at 1-5, 9-13. 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 January 20, 2017, 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.


         Summary of Evidence

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in her decision:

[Plaintiff] alleges that he cannot lift more than 15 pounds; cannot squat, climb, jump, or pull; can only bend forward a little for approximately 15 seconds before he needs to stand straight; can stand 20 minutes before needing to sit; and can sit 45 minutes. He further alleges than his pain interferes with his sleep and he spends most of his time in a recliner. [Plaintiff] alleges that he does not cook on the stove because he is limited in his ability to bend or stand. According to [Plaintiff], his conditions affect his ability to reach, kneel, and see. He alleges that he sometimes does not follow spoken instructions well and his medications cause drowsiness and forgetfulness. [Plaintiff] alleges to have constant pain in his left leg. On appeal, [Plaintiff] alleges to have difficulty caring for his personal needs, cooking, cleaning. Driving, shopping, and handling his finances. [Plaintiff] testified that he can sit for five to ten minutes; can stand five minutes in one place[;] can walk one block; and can lift a gallon of milk. According to [Plaintiff], he is on oxygen and he believes his COPD is getting worse. He alleges that he has shortness of breath and wheezes a lot. [Plaintiff] testified that he stopped smoking three months ago. According to [Plaintiff], he cannot do a sedentary job because of pain, vision, and instability.

R. at 24 (citations omitted); see R. at 45-57.

         B. VE Testimony

         The VE testified that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's same age, education, and work experience with the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) outlined below in Part III could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work but could perform the unskilled, light jobs of router, office helper, or counter clerk. R. at 61-62. A person ...

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