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Wolford v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 16, 2018

JOHNNY VERNON WOLFORD, 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 Johnny Vernon Wolford 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. 13) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 14).[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. 13) is GRANTED.

         I Background

         Born in 1961, Plaintiff has a high-school education and previously worked as a carpenter, landscaper, maintenance repairer, and insulation installer. R. at 21. Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and for SSI on August 22, 2013, alleging disability beginning on August 7, 2009 (later amended to June 27, 2013), due to heart problems, bipolar disorder, COPD, anxiety, ADHD, and sleep apnea. R. at 32, 198-210, 231. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 64-131, 136-37. On August 19, 2015, ALJ María Alexander Núñez held a hearing in Hagerstown, Maryland, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 28-63. On October 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the amended alleged onset date of disability of June 27, 2013, through the date of the decision. R. at 9-27. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 20, 2017. R. at 1-6, 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 April 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. State Agency Consultants

         On December 23, 2013, a state agency medical consultant, J. Biddison, M.D., assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”). R. at 70, 81-82. Dr. Biddison opined that Plaintiff could (1) lift and/or carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling. R. at 70, 81. Plaintiff had no postural, manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations, however. R. at 70, 81.

         On January 27, 2014, a state agency consultant, Elliott Rotman, Ph.D., using the psychiatric review technique (“PRT”) under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a, evaluated Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listing 12.04 relating to affective disorders (R. at 68-69, 79-80). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 § 12.04. Dr. Rotman opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listing, Plaintiff's mental impairments caused him 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) no repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 68, 79. Dr. Rotman did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listing. R. at 68, 79. Dr. Rotman thus assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC and opined that he was moderately limited in his ability to (1) carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (3) work in coordination with or in proximity to others without being distracted by them; (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) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; (7) maintain socially appropriate behavior and to adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness; (8) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting; and to (9) set realistic goals or to make plans independently of others. He otherwise was not significantly limited. R. at 71-72, 82-83.

         On June 5, 2014, another state agency consultant, Byron T. Pack, Psy.D., again used the PRT to evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09 relating to affective disorders, anxiety-related disorders, and substance addiction disorders (R. at 95-96, 109-10). See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 §§ 12.04, 12.06, 12.09. Dr. Pack opined that, under paragraph B of the applicable listings, Plaintiff's mental impairments caused him 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) no repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. R. at 96, 110. Dr. Pack did not find evidence to establish the presence of the criteria under paragraph C of the applicable listings. R. at 96, 110. Dr. Pack thus assessed Plaintiff's mental RFC and opined that he was moderately limited in his ability to (1) carry out detailed instructions; (2) maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (3) work in coordination with or in proximity to others without being distracted by them; (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) get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; (7) respond appropriately to changes in the work setting; and to (8) set realistic goals or to make plans independently of others. R. at 97-99, 111-13.

         B. Treating Sources' Opinions

         The ALJ reviewed the opinions of Plaintiff's treating sources in her decision:

On July 10, 2014, Ester C. Estwick, M.D., completed a Mental Medical Source Statement for [Plaintiff]. Here, Dr. Estwick opined that [Plaintiff] has extreme limitations with maintaining attention and concentration for extended periods and perform at a consistent pace. He has marked limitations with carrying out detailed instructions; working in coordination with others; completing a normal workday and workweek; and interacting appropriately with others. On July 7, 2015, Dr. Estwick completed another Medical Source Statement for [Plaintiff]. Here, [Plaintiff] has extreme limitations with carrying [out] detailed instructions; maintaining attention and concentration; working in coordination with others; completing a normal workday and workweek; performing at a consistent pace; accepting instructions; getting along with coworkers; responding appropriately to changes in the work setting; traveling to unfamiliar places; and setting realistic goals. . . .
On January 27, 2015, Shaheen [Iqbal], M.D., completed a Medical Source Statement for [Plaintiff]. Here, Dr. [Iqbal] opined that due to [Plaintiff's] chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, and obstructive sleep apnea, he can stand/walk for less than 2 hours and sit for about 4 hours during an 8-hour workday. He can rarely lift and carry less than 10 pounds, twist, stoop, crouch, and climb. Furthermore, he must avoid exposure to all environmental irritants.

R. at 20 (citations omitted); see R. at 499-501, 524-27, 555-57.

         C. ...


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