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Ransom v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 30, 2018

SONYA D. RANSOM, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Vanessa L. Kassab, DOROSHOW, PASQUALE, KRAWITZ & BHAYA, Wilmington, DE Attorney for Plaintiff

          David C. Weiss, United States Attorney, and Dina White Griffin, Special Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Wilmington, DE. Of Counsel: Nora Koch, Regional Chief Counsel, Region III, and James McTigue, Assistant Regional Counsel, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Philadelphia, PA. Attorneys for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In March and July of 2013, Plaintiff Sonya D. Ransom ("Plaintiff or "Ransom") filed Title II and Title XVI applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (See D.I. 8 ("Tr.") at 14) These applications were denied, both upon initial review and upon reconsideration. (See id.) On December 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing with an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), claiming disabilities beginning on August 1, 2012. (See id.) At the hearing, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have impairments that meet the required medical severity under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, and Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. (Tr. at 17) Plaintiffs subsequent request for review by the Appeals Council was denied. (Tr. at 1)

         On July 12, 2017, Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Defendant" or "Commissioner"). Pending before the Court are (I) Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment and (ii) Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. (D.I. 15, D.I. 21) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motion and grant Defendant's motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         Ransom suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), degenerative disc disease, obesity, and shortness of breath. (Tr. at 16) Plaintiff claims disability based only upon the MS. (Tr. at 209) Ransom was diagnosed with MS on February 8, 2013, based on symptoms that she reported began in August 2012. (Tr. at 247, 209) On April 15, 2013, Plaintiff saw neurologist Dr. Jason Silversteen, who confirmed the MS diagnosis. (Tr. at 260) Dr. Silversteen noted Plaintiff complained of stiffness in her legs, short-term memory issues, significant fatigue, gait difficulties, and balance issues. (Tr. at 267) Yet, Dr. Silversteen's physical and neurologic examination notes state that Plaintiff denied fatigue, her mental status was alert and oriented, her recent memory and attention were normal, and her gait was normal. (Tr. at 268-69)

         On May 7, 2013, State agency physician Dr. Michael Borek reviewed Plaintiffs medical records. (Tr. at 85) Dr. Borek found that Plaintiff did have physical limitations, but also that her alleged inability to engage in even sedentary activity was only partially credible given the results of her neurologic exams. (Tr. at 90, 92) Based on Plaintiffs entire medical record, Dr. Borek determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 93) He found Plaintiff had the RFC to perform her past relevant work as a cashier. (See id.)

         As part of a process of reconsideration, Dr. Vinod Kataria reviewed Plaintiffs medical records. (Tr. at 96) Dr. Kataria also determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 102-03) However, he found Plaintiff did not have the RFC to perform past relevant work and was only capable of sedentary work. (See id.)

         During a May 23, 2013 visit, treating physician Dr. Silversteen once again found Plaintiff was alert and oriented; her recent and remote memory, attention, and language were all normal; and her gait was normal. (Tr. at 261) Dr. Silversteen also noted increased deep tendon reflexes in the upper and lower extremities. (See id.)

         Dr. Silversteen made similar findings in October and November 2013. (Tr. at 403-08) Additionally, while Dr. Silversteen supplied Plaintiff with a prescription for a cane in this time frame, he continued to note that Plaintiffs gait was normal. (Tr. at 404)

         Plaintiffs February 10, 2014 visit to Dr. Silversteen resulted in the same findings: Plaintiffs speech was normal, she was alert and oriented to person, place, and time, and her recent and remote memory, attention, language, fund of knowledge, and gait were all normal. (Tr. at 400) He again made a note of increased deep tendon reflexes. (See id.) Dr. Silversteen also gave Plaintiff a prescription for a drug to improve her gait. (Tr. at 401)

         On February 11, 2014, Dr. Silversteen completed a Multiple Sclerosis Medical Source Statement identifying Plaintiffs symptoms of chronic fatigue, weakness, increased deep reflexes, difficulty remembering, unstable walking, poor coordination, and difficulty solving problems, among others. (Tr. at 282) He stated that due to these symptoms, Plaintiff needed to use a cane and she could not lift or carry any amount of weight. (Tr. at 284) Dr. Silversteen estimated that Plaintiff could use her hands and fingers for about 10% of an 8-hour work day, could sit for ten minutes before needing to get up, and could stand for five minutes before needing to change position. (Tr. at 283-84)

         In Plaintiffs subsequent visits with Dr. Silversteen, between May 2014 and July 2015, Dr. Silversteen made the same findings and notes as he had in prior appointments. (Tr. at 396, 391, 386, 382, 377, 374)

         B. The Administrative Hearing

         On October 28, 2015, an ALJ held a video hearing to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. at 13) Both Ransom and a vocational expert ("VE"), Marilyn J. Stroud, testified. (Tr. at 65)

         a. Ransom's Testimony

         Ransom testified that she lives alone in a handicapped accessible unit (for which she needed to qualify). (Tr. at 36, 53) She reported receiving assistance from family members to complete household activities, such as cleaning the bathroom, washing dishes, and sweeping, but stated that she is able to take care of her own personal hygiene. (Tr. at 60, 62)

         Cognitively, Ransom reported symptoms impacting concentration, memory, and awareness. (Tr. at 37-39, 47) She testified about difficulties interpreting and understanding directions. (Tr. at 47) She explained that these difficulties contributed to her current unemployment. (Tr. at 47) Physically, Ransom complained of aches and pains, inability to sit or stand for long periods, and inability to lift heavy equipment. (Tr. at 47) Ransom further testified that she uses a cane for stability and coordination due to weakness and muscle spasms in her legs. (See D.l. 50, 52)

         b. ...


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