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Cochran v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 26, 2018

KATHERINE ADELIA COCHRAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.[1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR REMAND

          Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Katherine Adelia Cochran 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 her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and alternative motion for remand (ECF No. 17), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18), and Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19).[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. 17) is GRANTED.

         I

         Background

         Born in 1982, Plaintiff has a high-school education and no past relevant work. R. at 32, 302. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on November 27, 2012, alleging disability beginning on November 1, 2008, due to bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and seizures. R. at 205-13, 297, 301. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 110-33, 137-46. On September 4, 2015, ALJ Susan Maley held a hearing in Baltimore, Maryland, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 43-82. On December 15, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since the application date of November 27, 2012. R. at 17-41. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 20, 2017. R. at 1-6, 14-16. The ALJ'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 February 24, 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. State Agency Consultants

         On March 11, 2013, a state agency consultant, E. Lessans, Ph.D., using the psychiatric review technique (“PRT”) 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 113-14). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 §§ 12.04, 12.06. Dr. Lessans 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 113. Dr. Lessans did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 113. Dr. Lessans thus assessed Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”) 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) 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; (5) accept instructions and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and to (6) maintain socially appropriate behavior and to adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness. She otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 115-16.

         On September 12, 2013, another state agency consultant, Lawrence Annis, Ph.D., again used the PRT to evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.04 and 12.06. R. at 126-27. Dr. Annis 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 126. Dr. Annis did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 126. Dr. Annis thus assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC and opined that she was moderately limited in her ability to (1) 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) 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; (5) interact appropriately with the general public; (6) accept instructions and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and to (7) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. Plaintiff otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 129-31. Dr. Annis opined that Plaintiff “should be mentally able to sustain concentration and persist at range of routine occupational tasks within physical tolerances and skill levels for at least two hours at a time through an 8-hour workday.” R. at 130.

         B. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The ALJ reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in her decision:

[Plaintiff] alleged several physical and mental symptoms arising from her severe impairments. [Plaintiff] testified that she had shooting pains from her neck down to her feet whenever she stood, and that she had difficulty sitting for long periods. [Plaintiff] explained as well that she was afraid of being around other people and that she does not like leaving her home. She noted that she starts to panic when she leaves her home, and that she has panic attacks. [Plaintiff] described having manic episodes and mood swings as well. She also described feeling worthless, having low self-esteem, and lacking motivation. She added that she had nightmares and a history of suicidal ideation. [Plaintiff] wrote that because of her symptoms, she had mobility problems and difficulties with her memory and understanding, concentration, following instructions, completing tasks, and getting along with others.

R. at 26-27 (citing R. at 316-23, 341-48, 362); see R. at 45-78. Further, Plaintiff believed that, in an eight-hour workday, she could stand and walk for two hours and could sit for four hours. R. at 69-70.

         C. VE Testimony

         The VE testified that a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's same age, education, and work experience and with the RFC outlined below in Part III could perform the jobs of mail sorter, pricer marker, or electrical assembler. R. at 78-79. No. jobs would be available, however, to an individual off task 20% because his or her productivity would fall below an acceptable level for competitive employment. R. at 79. Further, an individual unproductive more than 10% on a consistent basis would be unable to sustain a job. R. at 80-81. The VE testified that, from her experience, a person missing more than one day per month at work would not be able to maintain gainful ...


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