United States District Court, D. Maryland
WILLIAM CONNELLY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Dana Cameron ("Ms. Cameron" or "Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. The parties consented to a referral to a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings and final disposition. See ECF Nos. 2, 5-6 Pending and ready for resolution are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, Motion for Remand (ECF No. 10) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12). No hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (or Alternative Motion for Remand) will be denied.
On July 25, 2006 Ms. Cameron filed an application for DIB alleging a disability onset date of July 31, 2001 due to multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, carpal tunnel, irritable bowel syndrome, numbness and migraines. See R. at 83-84, 95. Ms. Cameron's application was denied initially on October 4, 2006. R. at 57-60. On February 22, 2007 the Social Security Administration received Ms. Cameron's request for reconsideration. R. at 61. On April 18, 2007 Ms. Cameron's DIB application was denied again. R. at 62-63. On July 9, 2007 the Social Security Administration received Ms. Cameron's request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). R. at 64. On October 21, 2008 an ALJ convened a hearing. R. at 22-54. Ms. Cameron was represented by counsel. During the hearing the ALJ obtained testimony from Ms. Cameron. In the December 24, 2008 decision the ALJ found Ms. Cameron was not disabled at any time from July 24, 2006 (her amended alleged onset date of disability) through December 31, 2006 (the date last insured) within the meaning of the Act. R. at 20. Ms. Cameron requested a review of the hearing decision. R. at 7. On February 23, 2012 the Appeals Council denied Ms. Cameron's request for review, R. at 1-6, thus making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision.
2. ALJ's Decision.
The ALJ evaluated Ms. Cameron's claim for DIB using the sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Ms. Cameron bears the burden of demonstrating her disability as to the first four steps. At step five the burden shifts to the Commissioner. If Ms. Cameron's claim fails at any step of the process, the ALJ does not advance to the subsequent steps. Pass v. Chater, 65 F.3d 1200, 1203 (4th Cir. 1995).
At step one the ALJ found Ms. Cameron has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from July 24, 2006 through her date last insured of December 31, 2006. R. at 15. The ALJ concluded at step two that Ms. Cameron had the following severe impairments: "history of multiple sclerosis (MS), bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), sleep apnea and depression[.]" Id. The ALJ further found at step two that Ms. Cameron's C6-7 disc bulge was a non-severe impairment since this condition had "no more than a minimal effect on her ability to perform basic work activity and imposes no significant vocationally relevant limitations[.]" Id.
At step three the ALJ found Ms. Cameron does not have an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals a listed impairment. The ALJ specifically considered the listings in section 11.00, neurological disorders, and section 12.00, mental disorders. With regard to neurological disorders, the ALJ considered Listings 11.09 and 11.04 and found no objective medical evidence demonstrating Ms. Cameron satisfying the specific criteria of these Listings. "[Ms. Cameron] is able to ambulate without the use of assistive device and she is able to perform fine and gross movements effectively[.]" R. at 16 (citation omitted).
With regard to Ms. Cameron's mental impairment, i.e., depression, the ALJ specifically considered Listing 12.04. In accordance with 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a, the ALJ followed a special technique to evaluate the severity of Ms. Cameron's depression. The four broad functional areas - (1) activities of daily living; (2) social functioning; (3) concentration, persistence or pace and (4) episodes of decompensation - are known as the "paragraph B" criteria for most of the mental disorders listed in Appendix 1. The ALJ determined Ms. Cameron has mild restriction in activities of daily living. "She is independent in self-care, drives, shops, performs a variety of household chores at her own pace, uses a computer daily, watches television, pays bills and uses a checkbook, does crossword puzzles, and enjoys reading[.]" R. at 16 (citation omitted).
With regard to social functioning, the ALJ found Ms. Cameron has mild difficulties. "[Ms. Cameron] presents no signs of social isolation or withdrawal and keeps in touch with friends and family members via E-mails and telephone calls. She is able to maintain and sustain relationships and there is no history of anti-social behavior." Id. As for concentration, persistence or pace, the ALJ determined Ms. Cameron has moderate difficulties.
[Ms. Cameron] disclosed in Function Report dated August 31, 2006, that she is capable of managing her finances and handling a checkbook; she further disclosed that she enjoys reading, doing crossword puzzles, crocheting, and uses a computer daily. All of these activities require sustained levels of concentration. Nonetheless, she is being given the benefit of the doubt based on records provided by a treating neurologist, Dr. Natalie Getzoff, who disclosed on December 29, 2006, that [Ms. Cameron] is
"severely depressed" and prescribes her Effexor for depression (Exhibit[s] 9F and 2E). [Ms. Cameron] testified that she did not start to see a psychologist until 2007 and there is no evidence that any of her treating sources deemed it necessary to refer her to a mental health specialist during her insured period, on or before December 31, 2006.
Id. Fourth, the ALJ found Ms. Cameron has not experienced any episodes of decompensation. Because Ms. Cameron's depression does not cause two "marked" limitations or one "marked" limitation and "repeated" episodes of decompensation, the "paragraph B" criteria are not satisfied. The ALJ then proceeded to consider the "paragraph C" criteria.
[Ms. Cameron] has not experienced repeated episodes of decompensation of an extended duration, is not living in a highly structured environment and is not so marginally adjusted that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in environment would cause her to decompensate ...