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Travis X. C. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 7, 2019

TRAVIS X. C., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Thomas M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Travis C. 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 his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16), and Plaintiff's “Reply Brief” (ECF No. 18).[2]Under Standing Order 2014-01, this matter has been referred to the undersigned for pretrial management and for proposed findings of fact and recommendations under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and L.R. 301(5)(b)(ix). No. hearing is necessary. L.R. 105(6). For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) be DENIED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) be GRANTED, and that the matter be REMANDED for an award of benefits.

         I

         Background

         Born in 1957, Plaintiff has a high-school education and previously worked as a limousine driver, paralegal, real estate leasing agent, collector, and collections manager. R. at 163, 3950. Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on June 30, 2010, alleging disability beginning on September 15, 2008, due to stroke, hypertension, and depression. R. at 9, 162. State agency consultants granted Plaintiff's SSI application as of June 30, 2010. R. at 9, 70, 3936. The Commissioner denied, however, Plaintiff's application for DIB initially and again on reconsideration, so Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. at 61-82.

         ALJ María Alexander Nuñez held a hearing on January 18, 2013, and issued an unfavorable decision on March 18, 2013. R. at 6-60. On May 22, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. R. at 1-5. Plaintiff sought judicial review in this Court, which, upon the Commissioner's consent, remanded the case on January 15, 2014. R. at 4102-03. The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to an ALJ on February 24, 2014. R. at 4104-08.

         On July 15, 2014, ALJ Theodore P. Kennedy held a hearing at which Plaintiff, a medical expert, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. R. at 3960-4007. On August 1, 2014, ALJ Kennedy issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from the alleged onset date of disability of September 15, 2008, through the date last insured of March 31, 2009. R. at 3933-59. On August 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed exceptions to the decision with the Appeals Council, which declined to assume jurisdiction on February 18, 2015. R. at 3915-18, 3928-32. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner after remand. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(b)(2).

         On March 12, 2015, Plaintiff sought review of the Commissioner's decision by filing a complaint in this Court, which remanded the case on September 7, 2016. R. at 4404-26. The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to an ALJ on September 16, 2016. R. at 4427-32.

         On April 18, 2017, ALJ Melvin G. Olmscheid held a hearing where Plaintiff, a psychological expert, and another VE testified. R. at 4251-317. On June 15, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date of disability of September 15, 2008, through his date last insured of March 31, 2009; and (2) had an impairment or a combination of impairments considered to be “severe” on the basis of the requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations; but (3) did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments meeting or equaling one of the impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; and (4) was unable to perform his past relevant work; but (5) could perform other work in the national economy. R. at 4226-42. The ALJ thus found that he was not disabled from September 15, 2008, through March 31, 2009. R. at 4242.

         In so finding, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had moderate limitations in his ability to concentrate, persist, or maintain pace. R. at 4231. The ALJ then found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)

to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he can perform work that only occasionally requires balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing (except never requires the use of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds). He can perform jobs that allow frequent exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, and irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poorly ventilated areas. He needs to avoid hazards. He can perform jobs consisting of simple (1- to 3-step tasks), routine, and repetitive tasks, in a work environment without production rate pace, and with only occasional interaction with co-workers and the public. Time off task during the workday can be accommodated by normal breaks; i.e., he is able to sustain concentration and attention for at least two hours at a time.

R. at 4231-32.

         On June 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed exceptions to the decision with the Appeals Council (R. at 4219-20), which declined to assume jurisdiction on April 3, 2018 (R. at 4209-13). The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner after remand. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(b)(2). On April 25, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. Under Standing Order 2014-01, this matter has been referred to the undersigned for pretrial management and for proposed findings of fact and recommendations under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and L.R. 301(5)(b)(ix). The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is now fully submitted.

         II

         Disability Determinations and Burden of Proof

         The Social Security Act defines a disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. A claimant has a disability when the claimant is “not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists . . ...


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