United States District Court, District of Columbia
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Stephen F. Shea, Elkind & Shea, Silver Spring, MD, for Plaintiff.
Fred Elmore Haynes, U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendant.
RICHARD W. ROBERTS, District Judge.
Plaintiff Willie Marie Broyles appeals the decision the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (" SSA" ), denying her request for Social Security disability insurance (" SSDI" ) benefits for the period between January 2001 and June 4, 2002. Broyles moves for reversal, claiming that the administrative law judge (" ALJ" ), whose decision became the Commissioner's, erred by deciding that Broyles was not disabled. The Commissioner opposes and moves to affirm the final decision. Because the evidence in the record supports the ALJ's determination, the plaintiff's motion will be denied and the Commissioner's motion will be granted.
Broyles is 58 and lives in Washington, D.C. Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Reversal (" Pl.'s Mem." ) at 3. She has a college education, and worked in the past as a secretary and an administrative assistant. However, she experienced a period of only intermittent work up until June 4, 2002, when she returned to work full time. Id.; Administrative R. (" R." ) at 249-51.
In 2000, Dr. David Ralphing conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Broyles and opined that Broyles appeared to suffer from moderately severe recurrent major depression. R. at 271. In addition, Dr. Eugene Miknowski concluded that Broyles demonstrated a normal range of motion in all joints; that despite a 1997 diagnosis of fibromyalgia, her physical condition could significantly improve with exercise and aggressive treatment; that Broyles was capable of lifting, carrying, and pushing at least ten to 15 pounds; and that she could sit without restriction. Id. at 264-66. In March of 2001, Broyles' treating psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Tankeh, filled out a mental impairment questionnaire sheet based upon her perception of Broyles. Dr. Tankeh noted that Broyles had experienced poor memory, disturbed appetite, sleep, and mood, social withdrawal, and decreased energy, and reported that she experienced panic attacks, anhedonia, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, difficulty thinking and concentrating, and general persistent anxiety. The doctor opined that Broyles would have difficulty working a full-time job on a sustained basis due to her impairments. Id. at 272-76.
In July of 2001, Broyles applied to the SSA for disability insurance benefits, alleging that since January 13, 2000, she suffered from emotional illness, depression, learning disability, and fibromyalgia. Compl. ¶ 5; Pl.'s Mem. at 2-3. In December of 2001, a Disability Determination Services (" DDS" ) physician completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of Broyles, and concluded that Broyles was capable of lifting 20 pounds occasionally and 10 frequently; standing
and/or walking about six hours in an eight hour workday; sitting about six hours in an eight hour workday; and pushing and/or pulling to an unlimited degree. R. at 183-90. A DDS psychologist reviewed Broyles' records and completed a Psychiatric Review Technique form. Id. at 195-208. The DDS examiner addressed whether Broyles' condition met the requirements for the listings at sections 12.02, 12.04, or 12.08 of the Social Security Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1, which address organic mental, affective, and personality disorders. Id. at 195. The DDS examiner found that under the " A" criteria of those listings, while Broyles had a medically determinable impairment, that impairment did not precisely satisfy the appropriate diagnostic criteria. Id. at 196, 198, 202. Moreover, the examiner found that under the " B" criteria for these listings, Broyles had only mild restrictions of activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and experienced only one or two episodes of decompensation. Id. at 205.
The DDS psychologist also completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of Broyles. R. at 191-193. The examiner found that Broyles was moderately limited in several capacities: her ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; her ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; her ability to get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; and her ability to set realistic goals or make plans independently of others. Id. at 192. Based on these findings, the DDS examiner opined that Broyles was still capable of engaging in " routine, and some types of complex, work at least." Id. at 193.
In July of 2002, Dr. James Ryan conducted a vocational evaluation of Broyles, noting that Broyles obtained a bachelors degree in 1977, with majors in psychology and social work. R. 209. Dr. Ryan noted that Broyles attended but did not complete graduate school. Based on his review of Broyles health and educational background, Dr. Ryan opined that Broyles' physical limitations " would present no major barrier to employment," and that she could perform jobs at the semi-skilled and skilled level. Id. at 211. However, Dr. Ryan opined that despite that evidence, Broyles' emotional status would preclude full-time employment. Id.
In February 2003, an ALJ held an administrative hearing regarding Broyles' claim. Vocational expert Kathleen Sampeck testified that an individual of Broyles' age, education, and work experience who was limited to a low-stress environment involving minimal interpersonal contacts with supervisors, coworkers, or the public, and performing simple, rote, repetitive job tasks, or detailed but not complex job tasks, would be capable of performing the jobs of non-postal mail clerk, office helper, and addresser. R. at 260. Sampeck stated that in the Washington, D.C. area, there were 800 mail clerk positions, 1,800 office helper positions, and 400 addresser positions, and that nationally, there were 45,000 mail clerk positions, 67,000 office helper positions, and 42,000 addresser positions. Id. at 261. Sampeck testified that her opinion was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Id.
The ALJ issued a decision on June 7, 2003, denying Broyles' claim for SSDI benefits. R. at 14-23. " In order to determine whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is
required to perform a five-step evaluation." Dunham v. Astrue, 603 F.Supp.2d 13, 17 (D.D.C.2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, and Butler v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 997 (D.C.Cir.2004)).
At step one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has been employed in substantial gainful work since the onset of [her] impairment. If the claimant has performed substantial gainful work, [her] claim will be denied. If the claimant has not performed substantial gainful work, the ALJ must determine at step two whether the claimant's impairments are medically severe. If the impairments are not severe, the claimant is not disabled. If the impairments are severe, the ALJ at step three must compare the claimant's impairments with those in the listing of impairments promulgated by the SSA. If the claimant suffers from an impairment that meets the duration requirement and meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations, the claimant is deemed disabled and the inquiry ends. If no match exists, the ALJ must continue the evaluation. At step four, the ALJ must determine if the claimant retains any residual functional capacity, namely, the ability to do past relevant work. Finally, [at step five] if the claimant is unable to perform [her] past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that the claimant is able to perform other work based on a consideration of [her] residual functional capacity, age, education and past work experiences.
Dunham, 603 F.Supp.2d at 13 (emphasis added).
The ALJ first noted that the medical evidence indicated that Broyles was diagnosed with and treated for " disorders of the back, affective disorder, anxiety related disorder, a learning disability and fibromyalgia, which prevent[ed] her from engaging in some basic work related activities." R. at 15. The ALJ determined that Broyles' condition did not meet the definition of an Affect Disorder:
[T]he evidence does not demonstrate that [Broyles'] impairments, either singly or in combination, are of a severity to meet or equal any of the impairments set forth in the Listing of impairments at Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d)) as required by the third step. Specific consideration was given to Listings 1.04, 12.04, 12.05, and 12.06 A, B, and C. The medical evidence does not satisfy the requisite level of severity of those or any other Listing.... [Broyles'] musculoskeletal impairment does not result in motor loss with accompanying atrophy, positive straight leg raising, or sensory or reflex loss, or inability to ambulate effectively. Her mental impairments, singly or in combination, do not result in marked limitation in at least 2 of 4 elements of functioning, activities of daily living, socialization, concentration, attention, persistence or pace, or episodes of deterioration for extended duration; nor do they result in [Broyles] being unable to function outside her home. No treating, consulting, examining, or reviewing medical source has opined that the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, were equal to any listed impairment.
R. at 16. The ALJ noted that Dr. Tankeh concluded that Broyles " had marked slight restrictions in her activities of daily living, marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning, often had difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence and pace[.]" Id. at 19. However, the ALJ gave " little weight" to the opinions of Dr. Tankeh regarding Broyles ...