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Jupiter v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 31, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Thomas M. DiGirolamo, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Carson Tracy Jupiter 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. 16) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 17).[1] 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. 16) is GRANTED.

         I Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1967, has a high-school education, and previously worked as a warehouse laborer and forklift driver. R. at 29-30. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on April 23, 2013, and for SSI on March 27, 2013, alleging disability beginning on June 30, 2012, due to a pinched nerve and dislocated disc. R. at 23, 211. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 70-111, 114-27. On May 22, 2015, ALJ Thomas Mercer Ray held a hearing in Washington, D.C., at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 37-68. On August 6, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of June 30, 2012, through the date of the decision. R. at 20-36. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 14, 2016. R. at 1-7, 15-19. 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 February 17, 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.

         II Summary of Evidence

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in his decision:

[Plaintiff's] symptoms include pain, weakness, and difficulty concentrating as a result of his pain. He alleged in a pain questionnaire and two function reports that these symptoms have impacted his activities of daily living and ability to maintain gainful employment. [Plaintiff] testified that he stopped working because of his health issues, which required him to frequently miss work. He stated that the side effects of his medications further affect his ability to work as they cause dizziness. He further stated that because of his pain, he must constantly change positions from sitting, to standing, to lying down. He testified that he can walk a [sic] two or three block [sic] before having to rest, stand for 20 to 25 minutes before having to sit down, lift 20 to 25 pounds, and must lie down for six hours out of the day. He noted that surgery has been recommended, but he is unsure if the procedure will help him. Finally, he stated that he sometimes needs a short cane to help him ambulate and he does very little around the house.

R. at 27-28 (citation omitted); see R. at 47-60, 229-39, 247-55.

         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 grading and sorting worker, inspector, or bench worker. R. at 63-64. No unskilled work would be available to someone who would need to be absent from work two days per month on an unscheduled basis. R. at 65. No unskilled work would be available to a person productive only 80% of the time in an eight-hour workday. R. at 66. According to the VE, his testimony did not conflict with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.[2] R. at 67.

         III Summary of ...

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