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Sellers v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 16, 2017

Dyyanna R. Sellers
v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration

          ORDER

         Dear Counsel:

         On January 31, 2017, Plaintiff Dyyanna R. Sellers petitioned this Court to review the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny her claim for Children's Insurance Benefits (“CIB”). [ECF No. 1]. I have considered the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. [ECF Nos. 24, 25, 28). I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). This Court must uphold the decision of the Agency if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the Agency employed proper legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Under that standard, I will deny both motions, reverse the Commissioner's decision, and remand the case to the Commissioner for further consideration. This letter explains my rationale.

         Ms. Sellers filed her CIB claim on September 25, 2012. (Tr. 177-80). Her claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 73-77, 79-85). A hearing was held on August 6, 2015, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 30-72). Following the hearing, the ALJ determined that Ms. Sellers was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time frame. (Tr. 13-29). Thereafter, Ms. Sellers requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 7-12). The Appeals Council denied Ms. Sellers's request for review, (Tr. 1-6), so the ALJ's 2015 decision constitutes the final, reviewable decision of the Agency.

The ALJ found that, prior to age 22, Ms. Sellers suffered from the severe impairment of major depressive disorder. (Tr. 18). Despite this impairment, the ALJ determined that Ms. Sellers, prior to attaining age 22, retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”):
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: could perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, in a low stress work environment, with low stress defined as no strict production quotas; and could only occasionally interact with the public, coworkers, and supervisors.

(Tr. 20). After considering the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Ms. Sellers, prior to attaining age 22, could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and that, therefore, she was not disabled. (Tr. 25).

         Ms. Sellers raises three primary arguments on appeal: (1) that the ALJ failed to engage in a proper analysis of Listing 12.04; (2) that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the opinions of treating physician Dr. Stephanie Tucker, M.D.; and (3) that the ALJ erroneously found that she could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. [ECF No. 24 at 16, 18, 23]; [ECF No. 28]. These arguments are addressed, in turn, below.

         I. Medical Listing Issue 12.04

         Ms. Sellers argues that substantial evidence does not support the ALJ's conclusion regarding Listing 12.04, “Affective Disorders.” [ECF No. 24 at 16-18]. Listings 12.00 et. seq., pertain to mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00. The relevant listings therein consist of: (1) a brief statement describing a subject disorder; (2) “paragraph A criteria, ” which consists of a set of medical findings; and (3) “paragraph B criteria, ” which consists of a set of impairment-related functional limitations. Id. § 12.00(A). If the ALJ finds that the claimant has medically documented persistence of an objective symptom of an affective disorder, signaling an affective impairment (the “Paragraph A” factors), the ALJ is instructed to rate the degree of functional limitation resulting from a claimant's impairment(s) with respect to the following factors: activities of daily living, social functioning, concentration, persistence or pace, and episodes of decompensation (the “Paragraph B” factors). See Id. § 12.04. The listing is met if a claimant can show any two of the following: marked restrictions in activities of daily living, marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning, concentration, persistence, or pace, and repeated episodes of decompensation (defined as three episodes within one year, or an average of once every four months, each lasting for at least two weeks). Id. If both the Paragraph A criteria and the Paragraph B criteria are satisfied, the ALJ will find that the claimant meets the listed impairment. Id. § 12.00(A).

         A listing may also be met if the ALJ finds that a claimant meets the “Paragraph C” factors; that is, the claimant has a “medically documented history of chronic affective disorder of at least 2 years' duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, with symptoms or signs currently attenuated by medication or psychosocial support, ” and which has led to either repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, a “residual disease process” that is so strenuous that even a minimal change in mental demands would cause the claimant to decompensate, or inability to function outside of a “highly supportive living arrangement” for more than one year. Id.

         With respect to Paragraph B factors, the ALJ found that Ms. Sellers had only mild restriction in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, and moderate difficulties with concentration, persistence or pace. (Tr. 19). Further, the ALJ determined that Ms. Sellers had experienced no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. Id.

         Ms. Sellers contends that the ALJ's findings regarding Listing 12.04 were unsupported by substantial evidence because he failed to discuss the Paragraph A criteria and mischaracterized the evidence pertaining to her daily activities, social functioning, abilities regarding concentration, persistence, or pace, and episodes of decompensation. [ECF No. 24 at 17-18]. I disagree. This Court's role is not to reweigh the evidence or to substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ, but simply to adjudicate whether the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. See Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). First, because Listing 12.04 is only met by “satisfying the paragraph A and B criteria, or the paragraph C criteria, ” the ALJ did not err in failing to discuss the Paragraph A criteria, as long as his analysis that Ms. Sellers did not satisfy the Paragraph B criteria was proper. See Mateus v. Colvin, No. 5:14-CV-873-D, 2015 WL 9805821, at *10 (E.D. N.C. Nov. 16, 2015), objections overruled, No. 5:14-CV-873-D, 2016 WL 183910 (E.D. N.C. Jan. 14, 2016). Here, I find that the ALJ properly analyzed the Paragraph B factors. In terms of Ms. Sellers's daily activities, the ALJ accurately cited her testimony that: (1) she had no problems driving; (2) attended church at least twelve times per month, including youth worship and Bible study; (3) completed household chores; (4) and walked the dog. (Tr. 19, 48, 58-60). The mere fact that “she had no choice but to go, ” [ECF No. 24 at 18], to church is not atypical of children and does not render the ALJ's finding of “mild restriction” unsupported by substantial evidence. Likewise, in finding Ms. Sellers had “moderate difficulties” in social functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace, the ALJ credited her testimony that she isolated herself at times during youth worship, attended school, and worked in the music industry and as a computer technician. (Tr. 19, 37-42, 45-47, 49). The ALJ further cited to Exhibit 7F, which demonstrated: (1) that her “speech was coherent, spontaneous with good associations, and goal directed;” (2) that her affect was not inappropriate; (3) that her immediate, recent, and remote memory were fully intact; and (4) that her concentration, serial sevens, and abstract thinking were “all good.” (Tr. 19, 930). Thus, despite Ms. Sellers's contention that her work in the music industry and as a computer technician was “non-existent, ” the ALJ's reliance on Exhibit 7F and Ms. Seller's remaining testimony fully supports the finding that she had only “moderate difficulties” in these categories.

         Because the ALJ provided adequate analysis with supporting evidentiary citations regarding the medical listing, there is no basis for remand on this ground.

         II. The Opinions of ...


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