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Little v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 12, 2018

STEPHANIE LITTLE, 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 Stephanie Little 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. 17) 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. 17) is GRANTED.

         I.

         Background

         Born in 1975, Plaintiff has a college education and previously worked as a contract specialist, assistant controller, audit clerk, and receptionist. R. at 35, 198, 206, 210. Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on November 21, 2012, alleging disability beginning on November 19, 2010, due to bipolar disorder; major depression; post-traumatic stress disorder; panic/anxiety disorder; chronic gastritis; osteoarthritis of the knees, feet, neck, and spine; edema, diabetes, anemia, fibromyalgia, and scoliosis. R. at 21, 155-60, 206, 209. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 71-97, 99-113. On April 5, 2016, ALJ Thomas Mercer Ray held a hearing in Washington, D.C., where Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 43-70. On June 17, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of November 19, 2010, through the date of the decision. R. at 18-42. Plaintiff sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 11, 2017. R. at 1-7, 153-54, 291-93. 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 July 11, 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 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 reviewed Plaintiff's testimony in his decision:

At the hearing, [Plaintiff] testified that she could not work due to the following impairments: arthritis, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and depression as well as symptoms of headaches, suicidal/homicidal thoughts, and problems with memory, concentration, and sleep cycle. [Plaintiff] further alleged bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, anxiety disorder, chronic gastritis, osteoarthritis of the knees, feet, neck, and spine, edema, type II diabetes mellitus, iron deficiency, anemia, lumbar scoliosis and bulging discs, racing thoughts, panic attacks, and crying spells.
[Plaintiff] testified she graduated from high school and has a B.A. degree in fine arts. She last worked in Washington, DC as a contract specialist and stopped in November 2010 due to a motor vehicle accident. She was on short-term disability until 2013. She had a flare up of fibromyalgia after the motor vehicle accident. She also has neuropathy. She has had physiological impairments since 2008. She had psychiatric hospitalizations in 2012 and 2014 for suicidal/homicidal thoughts. She has problems with concentration, memory, and sleep cycle, and she keeps a sleep log. As aforementioned, she testified to not going out much (the last time was a year ago), difficulty being around unfamiliar people, reading only a few pages of a book before getting bored, and falling asleep while watching TV. However, she also testified to driving her mother's car and having a couple of friends she texts or calls.

R. at 28 (citation omitted); see R. at 53-64.

         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 but could perform the light, unskilled jobs of mail clerk, router, or photocopy machine operator.[3] R. at 67-68. No. unskilled work would be available to such a hypothetical individual who additionally would be productive for only 80% of an eight-hour workday. R. at 68. Further, no unskilled work would be available to such a hypothetical individual absent from work for two days per month on an unscheduled basis. R. at 68-69. With the exception ...


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