United States District Court, D. Maryland
Dyyanna R. Sellers
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
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.
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).
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.
Medical Listing Issue 12.04
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).
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.
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
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.
the ALJ provided adequate analysis with supporting
evidentiary citations regarding the medical listing, there is
no basis for remand on this ground.
The Opinions of ...