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Snowdon v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 13, 2016

CHRISTY MAE SNOWDON, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM DECISION [1]

          John H. Rich III United States Magistrate Judge

         In this Social Security Disability (“SSD”) appeal, the plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge did not give proper weight to the opinions of her treating psychiatrist, counselor, and primary care physician, resulting in a reversible failure to find that her impairments met Listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08. I affirm the commissioner's decision.

         In accordance with the commissioner's sequential evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; 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 met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012, Finding 1, Record at 17; that, before the date last insured, she suffered from anxiety disorder, affective disorder, and borderline personality disorder, impairments that were severe but which, considered separately or in combination, did not meet or equal the criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P (the “Listings”), Findings 3-4, id. at 17-19; that, before the date last insured, she had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, except that she could understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, could use judgment in making simple work-related decision, respond appropriately to co-workers, supervision, and usual work situations not involving the public, and could adapt to changes in the ordinary work setting, Finding 5, id. at 20; that, through the date last insured, she was unable to perform any past relevant work, Finding 6, id. at 25; that, considering her age (38 years old on the date last insured), education (at least high school), work experience, and RFC, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform, Findings 7-10, id.; and that she, therefore, had not been disabled, as that term is defined in the Social Security Act, from April 6, 2007, the alleged date of onset of disability, through the date last insured, December 31, 2012, Finding 11, id. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, id. at 1-3, making the decision the final determination of the commissioner, 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; 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. § 404.1520(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 statement of errors also implicates Step 3 of the sequential evaluation process, at which step a claimant bears the burden of proving that her impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals a listing. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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. § 404.1525(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. § 404.1526(a).

         I. Discussion

         A. Step 3

         The plaintiff asserts that, had the administrative law judge properly weighed the opinions of Michael D. Garnett, M.D., her treating psychiatrist, those opinions “would lead to a finding of meeting Listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08” due to “marked impairments in activities of daily living and ability to maintain concentration, persistence and pace[.]” Itemized Statement of Errors Pursuant to Local Rule 16.3 Submitted by Plaintiff (“Itemized Statement”) (ECF No. 8) at 2. I will assume arguendo that this brief argument is sufficient to put this issue before the court, but see Gilks v. Astrue, No. 1:10-cv-357-DBH, 2011 WL 2580646, at *2 n.2 (D. Me. June 28, 2011) (issues adverted to in perfunctory manner unaccompanied by developed argumentation are deemed waived). However, it cannot carry the day.

         Each of the Listings cited by the plaintiff requires more than a finding of marked impairment in the activities of daily living and ability to maintain, concentration, persistence, and pace. In order to establish the existence of an affective disorder of sufficient severity to meet Listing 12.04, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Listing 12.04”), a claimant must also show a disturbance of mood accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome, as well as medically-documented persistence of either a depressive syndrome, a manic syndrome, or bipolar syndrome, each of which must be characterized by certain specific symptoms, as well as certain marked restrictions and/or difficulties. Listing 12.04. The plaintiff makes no effort to show that any of the required characteristics enumerated in the first part of the Listing were present before the date last insured.

         The same is true of Listing 12.06, addressing anxiety related disorders, and Listing 12.08, pertaining to personality disorders. Accordingly, the plaintiff's Step 3 argument falls short, and remand is not warranted on this basis.

         B. Dr. Garnett

         Dr. Garnett became the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist in December 2012, Record at 499, just before the plaintiff's date last insured on December 31, 2012. The plaintiff asserts that the administrative law judge “fail[ed] to give proper weight to the opinions of” Dr. Garnett, Itemized Statement at 2, by failing to give a “good reason” for rejecting his opinions. Id. at 5.

         The administrative law judge said the following about Dr. Garnett's records and opinions:

On December 12, 2012, the claimant was evaluated by psychiatrist Dr. Garnett. The claimant reported that her improvement following her partial hospitalization had been short-lived due to the disclosure of stressful family issues after completing the program. On mental status examination, Dr. Garnett documented a mildly anxious presentation and no labile or inappropriate responses. Dr. Garnett assessed her with a global assessment of functioning (“GAF”) score of 50 but made no medication adjustments due to an upcoming six-week trip, which is not consistent with disabling psychiatric limitations. The claimant returned to Dr. Garnett on March 20, 2013. Dr. Garnett noted that the claimant had a moderate level of ruminative worrying and ruminating, a good deal of ambivalence about decision-making ...

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