United States District Court, D. Maine
ELIZABETH S. DiPIETRO, Plaintiff.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
JOHN H. RICH, III, Magistrate Judge.
The plaintiff in this Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") appeal contends that the administrative law judge committed reversible error when she failed to find that the plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled the criteria of Listings 12.02 and/or 12.06, failed to discuss a physician's opinion in that regard, failed to give appropriate weight to the opinions of two treating sources, and assigned her a residual functional capacity ("RFC") that is not supported by substantial evidence. I affirm the commissioner's decision.
In accordance with the commissioner's sequential evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Goodermote v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982), the administrative law judge found, in relevant part, that the plaintiff suffered from degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, a seizure disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning, impairments that were severe but which, considered separately or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P (the "Listings"), Findings 2-3, Record at 22-23; that she retained the RFC to perform light work with a sit/stand-at-will option, but not work that required the ability to climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, stairs, or ramps, to balance, stoop, kneel, crawl, or crouch more than occasionally, to be exposed to hazards in the workplace, to carry out other than simple, repetitive instructions, to interact with the general public, to interact more than occasionally with supervisors and coworkers, to make more than occasional decisions, or to adjust to more than occasional changes in the work setting, Finding 4, id. at 26; that the plaintiff had no past relevant work, Finding 5, id. at 34; that, given her age (39 on the date the application was filed), at least high school education, and RFC, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that the plaintiff could perform, Findings 6-9, id. at 34; and that, therefore, the plaintiff had not been under a disability, as that term is defined in the Social Security Act, at any time since the date the application was filed, September 29, 2011, Finding 10, id. at 35. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, id. at 1-3, making it the final determination of the commissioner, 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481, Dupuis v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 869 F.2d 622, 623 (1st Cir. 1989).
The standard of review of the commissioner's decision is whether the determination made is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3); Manso-Pizarro v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996). In other words, the determination must be supported by such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion drawn. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).
The administrative law judge reached Step 5 of the sequential evaluation process, at which stage the burden of proof shifts to the commissioner to show that a claimant can perform work other than her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Goodermote, 690 F.2d at 7. The record must contain substantial evidence in support of the commissioner's findings regarding the plaintiff's RFC to perform such other work. Rosado v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 807 F.2d 292, 294 (1st Cir. 1986).
The plaintiff's itemized statement also implicates Step 3 of the sequential review process. At Step 3, a claimant bears the burden of proving that her impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d); Dudley v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 816 F.2d 792, 793 (1st Cir. 1987). To meet a listing, the claimant's impairment(s) must satisfy all criteria of that listing, including required objective medical findings. 20 C.F.R. § 416.925(c)(3). To equal a listing, the claimant's impairment(s) must be "at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment." 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a).
A. Step 3 Issues
The plaintiff first argues that the administrative law judge was required to find that her medically determinable impairments medically equaled the criteria of Listing 12.02 or Listing 12.06. Plaintiff's Statement of Errors ("Itemized Statement") (ECF No. 11) at 2-6. Listing 12.06 is for anxiety related disorders.
The administrative law judge considered Listings 12.05 and 12.06. Record at 23-25. Of Listing 12.06, she said:
The undersigned has also considered whether the "paragraph C" criteria of 12.06 are satisfied. In this case, the evidence fails to establish the presence of the "paragraph C" criteria. Listing level severity under "paragraph C" requires that the claimant be unable to function independently outside the area of the claimant's home or outside a highly supportive living arrangement or that even minimal increases in mental demands or change in the environment could be expected to cause decompensation. The record supports a finding that the claimant is not so limited. The claimant has not alleged and the medical record does not indicate that she is so limited. She is a single parent caring for a young child with autism and a mother with schizophrenia and diabetes requiring the claimant to visit using public transportation. Accordingly, "paragraph C" criteria are not met.
Id. at 25.
"Paragraph C" is a reference to the final, alternative part of Listing 12.06, which has three subparts, as follows:
12.06 Anxiety Related Disorders: In these disorders anxiety is either the predominant disturbance or it is experienced if the individual attempts to master symptoms; for example, confronting the dreaded object or situation in a phobic disorder or resisting the obsessions or compulsions in obsessive compulsive disorders.
The required level of severity for these disorders is met when the requirements in both A and B are satisfied, or when the ...