United States District Court, Southern District of Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. CASSADY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 A. § 636(c), for all proceedings in this Court. (Docs. 20 & 22 ("In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the parties in this case consent to have a United States Magistrate Judge conduct any and all proceedings in this case, . . . order the entry of a final judgment, and conduct all post-judgment proceedings.").) Upon consideration of the administrative record, plaintiff's brief, the Commissioner's brief, and the arguments of counsel at the February 20, 2015 hearing before the Court, it is determined that the Commissioner's decision denying benefits should be affirmed.
Plaintiff alleges disability due to bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"). The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) made the following relevant findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2007.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 20, 2011, the amended alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: Carpal tunnel syndrome, left; Bipolar Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (NOS); Anxiety; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Substance abuse; Asthma; Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD); and Obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
In evaluating this case, the claimant's date last [i]nsured (DLI) is relevant. The DLI is the last day of the last calendar quarter in which the requirements for entitlement to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits are met. In the claimant's case, this date is September 30, 2007. If onset of disability cannot be established on or before the DLI, the claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II must be denied. If the claim is for Title II benefits only, then the period of adjudication ends with the DLI. With regard to Title II benefits, several exhibits contain evidence after the claimant's date last insured. Nonetheless, the Administrative Law Judge has carefully read and considered all evidence regardless of whether it is specifically cited in the decision.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
The severity of the claimant's mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, do not meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.04 and 12.09. In making this finding, the undersigned has considered whether the "paragraph B" criteria are satisfied. To satisfy the "paragraph B" criteria, the mental impairments must result in at least two of the following: marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. A marked limitation means more than moderate but less than extreme. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, means three episodes within 1 year, or an average of once every 4 months, each lasting for at least 2 weeks.
In activities of daily living, the claimant has mild restriction. This finding is supported by the Psychiatric Review Technique assessment completed on September 8, 2011, by Harold Veits, M.D., a medical consultant with Disability Determination Services. The claimant is able to care for her own physical needs including bathing herself, dressing herself, taking medicine and cooking. She has no driving restrictions, is able and does drive. She was able to raise two children. According to testimony, on a typical day she takes care of her plants, reads, and cleans house. She cooks, but sometimes burns food because she forgets about it. She goes grocery shopping once a month.
In social functioning, the claimant has moderate difficulties. The evaluation in Exhibit 14F supports this finding. The claimant testified that she goes to the grocery store when most people are working. In her adult function report, she indicated that socially, she sits and talks and she does not go places.
With regard to concentration, persistence or pace, the claimant has moderate difficulties. According to testimony, the claimant has problems concentrating. Despite the claimant's allegations of mental limitations, the claimant's cumulative high school record indicates she made A's, B's, C's, and some D's. Despite the claimant's mental limitations, she testified she likes to read science fiction and caring for her plants.
As for episodes of decompensation, the claimant has experienced one to two episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, according to the evaluation in Exhibit 14F.
Because the claimant's mental impairments do not cause at least two "marked" limitations or one "marked" limitations and "repeated" episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, the "paragraph B" criteria are not satisfied.
The undersigned has also considered whether the "paragraph C" criteria are satisfied. In this case, the evidence fails to establish the presence of the "paragraph C" criteria according to the evaluation in Exhibit 14F.
The limitations identified in the "paragraph B" criteria are not a residual functional capacity assessment but are used to rate the severity of mental impairments at step 2 and 3 of the sequential evaluation process. The mental residual functional capacity assessment used at steps 4 and 5 of the sequential evaluation process requires a more detailed assessment by itemizing various functions contained in the broad categories found in paragraph B of the adult mental disorders listings in 12.00 of the Listing of Impairments. Therefore, the following residual functional capacity assessment reflects the degree of limitation the undersigned has found in the "paragraph B" mental function analysis.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she can lift, carry, push and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, sit, stand and walk for 6 hours in a work day, frequently use foot controls bilaterally, only frequently handle, feel and finger with her non-dominant hand, could frequently climb ramps and stairs but never ladders and scaffolds, frequently balance and stoop but only occasionally kneel, crouch and crawl, could never be exposed to unprotected heights or dangerous machinery, dangerous tools or hazardous processes and could occasionally operate a motor vehicle, be exposed to humidity and wetness and atmospheric conditions; she could only remember short simple oral or written instructions and would be unable to deal with detailed or multi-step instructions and she could perform simple routine repetitive tasks but would be unable to perform detailed or complex tasks, she could have no more than occasional contact with the general public, but could have frequent contact with co-workers and supervisors and would be able to accept constructive, non-confrontational criticism, work in small group settings and be able to accept changes in the work place setting if introduced gradually and would be unable to perform assembly line work with production rate pace.
The claimant was 41 years of age on her alleged onset date. According to testimony, she completed nine months of college. The claimant's 2009 consultative examination provided the following information about her. She is able to care for her own physical needs including bathing herself, dressing herself, taking medicine, driving, and cooking. She is able to drive. She stated  that she was able to raise her two children. However, since the onset of more significant psychiatric problems[, ] her 15-year-old child now lives with her aunt. With regard to educational functioning, she reportedly performed well in school and graduated. She received an Associate's degree in the medical support staff field, but she has never worked in that field. She has worked primarily for herself or her mother as a seamstress. She last worked as a custom seamstress 1½ year[s] prior to February 2009. With regard to substance abuse history, she smokes one pack of cigarettes per day. She denied current problems with alcohol although she has a reported and significant history of illicit drug use. The last time she used illicit drugs was four to five years prior to 2009. She has a history of methamphetamine use.
According to information provided to the Social Security Administration on July 22, 2011, the claimant has trouble remembering key dates (hospitalizations, doctor's visits, etc.). It was also noted that the claimant seemed very anxious and distracted at times during the interview. At times, the interviewer noted that the claimant mumbled and made comments to herself and laughed. Several times, the interviewer asked the claimant to repeat the comments, and she responded "never mind." The claimant told the interviewer that she sees things that are not there; however, she denied hearing voices. The claimant ...