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Max v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2014

RONALD J. MAX, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DEBORAH A. ROBINSON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Ronald J. Max commenced this action against the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Social Security Administration's denial of his claim for disability insurance benefits. See Complaint (Document No. 1). The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all purposes, and the matter was assigned to the undersigned. See Notice, Consent, and Reference of a Civil Action to a Magistrate Judge (Document No. 20). Pending for determination are Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal (Document No. 9) and Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance (Document No. 15). Upon consideration of the motions, the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, the administrative record, and the entire record herein, the undersigned will grant Defendant's motion, and deny Plaintiff's motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Ronald J. Max, who was born in 1943, applied for disability insurance benefits in January, 2003. Administrative Record ("AR") (Document No. 6) at 40, 61, 66-68, 310. At that time, he reported that he became disabled on January 1, 2000 due to psoriatic arthritis, Parkinson's disease, tendinitis, and depression.[1] Id. 16, 66, 68-71.

Plaintiff's claims were initially denied by the agency, and also upon reconsideration. Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal ("Plaintiff's Memorandum") at 1.

Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. The ALJ conducted a hearing on August 2, 2006 at which he heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel; Nancy France, a witness for the Plaintiff; Dr. David W. Williams, "an impartial medical expert[, ]" and Eileen M. Lincicome, "an impartial vocational expert." id. at 16. The ALJ issued his findings on August 2, 2006, and determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits "because [Plaintiff] has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act through the date last insured of December 31, 2000." Id. at 17. The ALJ set forth his findings with respect to each step of the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).[2] Id. at 17-23. The ALJ found that Plaintiff "has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 2000, the alleged onset date." AR at 18 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from an impairment - Parkinson's disease - but further found that Plaintiff "did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526) AR at 19. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff "had the residual functional capacity to perform at least light exertion work activities from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2000." Id. In so finding, the ALJ "considered all symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence... [he] also considered opinion evidence...." Id. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff "was capable of performing past relevant work as an actor... from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2000. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity." Id. at 23. Accordingly, he concluded that Plaintiff "was not under a disability, ' as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2000." Id. (citation omitted).

Thereafter, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Social Security Administration Office of Disability Adjudication and Review's Appeals Council ("Appeals Council"), id. at 9, and submitted letters as additional evidence to be considered by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council received the additional evidence, but, on June 6, 2007, denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 6. The Appeals Council determined that "[the reasons Plaintiff disagreed with the ALJ's decision] [do] not provide a basis for changing the [ALJ's] decision[, ]" and "found no reason under [the Appeals Council's] rules to review the Administrative Law Judge's decision." Id. at 6-7. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner, and Plaintiff then timely commenced this action for review of the decision.

CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and is erroneous as a matter of law. Thus, Plaintiff requests that the Court reverse the agency's decision, or, in the alternative, remand the case for a new hearing. Plaintiff's Memorandum at 1. Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's determination that he did not have a "severe" impairment was erroneous. Id. at 4. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ made five errors:

(1) the ALJ improperly determined the Plaintiff's impairments to be non-severe by his (a) failure to evaluate two additional ailments at step two of the sequential evaluation process by not considering "whether the combination of the Plaintiff's impairments, namely, his Hepatitis C, psoriasis, depression, and Parkinson's disease, constituted a severe impairment[, ]" and (b) "[failure] to follow the proper procedure for analyzing mental impairments[, ]" id. at 4-5;
(2) the ALJ failed to follow proper procedure for analyzing mental impairments by his (a) "[failure] to determine whether the Plaintiff had a medically determinable' mental impairment[, ] (b) "[failure] to specify the symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings that substantiated the presence of the impairment, and document those findings[, ]" and © "[failure] to follow the regulatory requirements for the evaluation of mental impairments[, ]" id. at 7-8;
(3) the ALJ failed to properly develop the administrative record by not "recontact[ing] the Plaintiff's health care provider to obtain evidence" of Plaintiff's "symptoms of depression in 2000" because there "was not an adequate description of these symptoms[, ]" Id. at 8-9;
(4) the ALJ erroneously determined that the Plaintiff was capable of performing his past-relevant work as an actor, but "failed to perform the proper analysis for determining that the Plaintiff was capable of performing his past-relevant work[, ]" by not making "any findings of fact as to the physical and mental demands of the Plaintiff's past occupation as an actor, other than to find that it was light work[.]" id. at 11; and

(5) the ALJ erroneously assessed the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity by not "properly assess[ing] the Plaintiff's limitations as required pursuant to Social Security Ruling 96-8p[, ]" and failing "to perform a function-by-function assessment of a claimant's ability to perform the physical and mental ...


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