DOUGLAS N. BARBER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Neut L. Strandemo, STRANDEMO SHERIDAN & DULAS, PA, for plaintiff.
Ana H. Voss, Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES
JOHN R. TUNHEM, District Judge.
Plaintiff Douglas N. Barber brought this action against the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"),  seeking judicial review of a denial of disability benefits. On August 16, 2012, United States Magistrate Judge Tony L. Leung filed a report and recommendation ("R&R") recommending that this Court reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand the case for further development of the record pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Upon receiving no objections from the parties, this Court adopted the R&R. Barber moved for attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. Because the Commissioner's position in this matter was substantially justified, the Court will deny Barber's motion.
I. ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
Barber filed an application for disability insurance benefits on July 19, 2007. (Soc. Sec. Admin. R. ("Tr.") 15, July 19, 2011, Docket No. 5.) The state agency denied Barber's application initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. ) After an administrative hearing on December 17, 2009, Administrative Law Judge Roger W. Thomas ("the ALJ") issued a decision finding that Barber was not disabled during the relevant time period. ( Id. )
The ALJ followed a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether Barber was disabled, considering (1) whether the claimant was engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant had a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment met or equaled a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant had sufficient residual functional capacity ("RFC") to return to his past work; and (5) whether the claimant could do other work existing in significant numbers in the regional or national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(g). A "listed impairment" is an impairment set out in Social Security Act ("SSA") regulations. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). A claimant is considered disabled if he suffers from a listed impairment or a disorder that is the medical equivalent of a listed impairment. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1526. In addition, a claimant is considered disabled if he lacks the RFC to conduct work on a sustained basis due to his impairments. Id. § 404.1545.
In accordance with this five-step analysis, the ALJ first considered whether Barber was engaged in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ determined that Barber had not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period, from August 15, 2003, through December 31, 2008. (Tr. 17.) Next, the ALJ found that Barber suffered from severe impairments including lumbago with low back pain, history of chronic hip pain, major depressive disorder, and chemical dependency. ( Id. ) Specifically, the ALJ found that Barber's major depressive disorder and chemical dependency disorder were severe impairments because they resulted in more than minimal limitations on Barber's ability to perform basic work-related activities. ( Id. )
The ALJ then determined that Barber did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. (Tr. 18.) Among other findings, the ALJ determined that Barber's mental impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria of Listing 12.04, which applies to affective disorders. ( Id. ) In making this finding, the ALJ determined that Barber did not meet the criteria of "paragraph B" of the Listing, which requires that a mental impairment 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. ( Id. ) The ALJ also considered whether the "paragraph C" criteria were satisfied and concluded that "the evidence fails to establish the presence of the paragraph C' criteria." ( Id. ) The ALJ further considered if Barber's physical impairments met or equaled any listing and determined that they did not do so. ( Id. )
The ALJ next assessed Barber's RFC and found that Barber (a) could lift/carry no more than twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; (b) could sit/stand/walk six hours per eight-hour workday; (c) was precluded from working around hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous moving machinery and from climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; (d) was limited to only occasional climbing of stairs and ramps, kneeling and crawling; and (e) was limited to simple and routine tasks in an alcohol and drug-free environment. ( Id. )
As part of this RFC analysis, the ALJ considered Barber's mental impairments and found that they caused mild restrictions in activities of daily living, mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning, moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace, and no episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 21.) In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ placed significant weight on the opinions of state agency psychologist D. Unversaw and consultative psychiatrist Dr. Alford Karayusuf, whose opinions supported the ALJ's conclusions. (Tr. 21, 23.) The ALJ also considered records showing that Barber participated in certain activities of daily living, maintained some interaction with others, and exhibited at least some indicators of an ability to concentrate. (Tr. 21-23.) The ALJ further found that medication helped Barber's symptoms with regard to his mental impairments. (Tr. 22.) In light of these and other considerations, the ALJ found that Barber possessed the RFC outlined above. (Tr. 23.)
The ALJ then determined that Barber could not perform his past relevant work but could perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 23-24.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that, from August 15, 2003, ...