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Hawes v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

June 17, 2013

VESS HAWES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


THOMAS M. DIGIROLAMO, Magistrate Judge.

Vess Hawes ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.§§ 401-433. Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Pl.'s Mot. Summ., ECF No. 13), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Def.'s Mot. Summ., ECF No. 16), and Plaintiff's Response (Pl's Resp., ECF No. 18). No hearing is deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on February 6, 2009 alleging disability since January 1, 2000 on the basis of aneurysm and high blood pressure. R. at 156-57, 174, 181. Her earnings record demonstrated that she had acquired enough quarters to remain insured through March 31, 2002. Therefore, to be eligible for benefits, Plaintiff had to prove disability at some point prior to her date last insured. Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. R. at 96-98, 104-05. On September 16, 2010, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). R. at 29-76. In a decision dated December 10, 2010, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. R. at 16-24. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision subject to judicial review. R. at 1-4.

II. ALJ's Decision

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's claim for DIB using the sequential process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, § 416.920. At the first step, the ALJ determined that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: status post aneurysm (cognitive, memory and physical) and hypertension. At step three, the ALJ found that her impairments did not meet or equal the Listings of Impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt, P, app. 1. The ALJ concluded at step four that, given her Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") Plaintiff was not capable of performing her past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, he concluded that Claimant was not disabled. R. at 16-24.

III. Standard of Review

The role of this court on review is to determine whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)(1994 & Supp. V 1999); Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1202 (4th Cir. 1995); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance, of the evidence presented. Shively v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 987, 989 (4th Cir. 1984). It is such evidence that a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion, and must be sufficient to justify a refusal to direct a verdict if the case were before a jury. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456 (quoting Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966)). This court cannot try the case de novo or resolve evidentiary conflicts, but rather must affirm a decision supported by substantial evidence. Id.

IV. Discussion

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ (1) failed to evaluate Plaintiff's mental impairment under the appropriate listing; and (2) failed in evaluating the opinion of the consultative examiner.

A. Listing 12.02

Plaintiff argues that while the ALJ specifically considered Listings 12.04 (affective disorders) and 12.06 (anxiety related disorders), he failed to evaluate her mental condition under Listing 12.02 (organic mental disorders). She argues that under Cook v. Heckler, 783 F.2d 1168, 1172-73 (4th Cir. 1986), the ALJ was required to identify Listing 12.02 and compare each of the listed criteria to the evidence of Claimant's symptoms. Plaintiff argues that there was "ample evidence" in the record to trigger that duty. As is well-established, Plaintiff carries the burden to establish that her impairment is disabling at Step 3 of the sequential evaluation. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987).

In order to meet Listing 12.02, the claimant must meet the requirements in either both "paragraph A" and "paragraph B" or "paragraph C" alone.[2] 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. To satisfy the "paragraph A" criteria, the claimant must show demonstration of a loss of specific cognitive abilities or affective changes with medically documented persistence of at least one of a number of enumerated areas including memory impairment. Id. To satisfy the "paragraph B" criteria, the claimant must show at least two of the following criteria: marked restriction of activities of daily living, marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning, marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, or repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. Id. Where a "marked" level is required, it means more than moderate but less than extreme. Id.

The ALJ found that Claimant did not satisfy the "paragraph B" requirements because her mental impairments did not result in marked limitations or in repeated episodes of decompensation. R. at 19-20. The ALJ found that Claimant had no restriction in activities of daily living or social functioning but that Claimant had moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence or pace. R. at 19. Moreover, the ALJ found that Claimant ...

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