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Campion v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

September 25, 2019

MARY CAMPION, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an appeal from an adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Mary Campion challenges the Commissioner’s determination that, but for the period between July 1, 2004, and August 31, 2005, she was not disabled and therefore not entitled to disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Campion’s appeal raises a single claim: that the administrative law judge erred by failing to translate her finding that Campion had mild-to-moderate limitations in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace into a reasoned, supported mental residual functional capacity finding. For the reasons set forth below, the court rejects this argument and will affirm the Commissioner’s decision.


         Campion’s claim has followed a tortuous path. Campion applied for disability insurance benefits in February 2010, alleging that she had been disabled since July 1, 2004, at which time she was 49 years old. Campion’s eligibility for disability insurance benefits had expired on September 30, 2006, however, which meant that Campion had to show that she was disabled on or before that date.

         Campion alleged that between July 1, 2004, and September 30, 2006, she was unable to sustain a fulltime job because of back problems, radiation enteritis, bowel obstruction, anxiety and depression. After two agency denials, Campion’s claim was heard by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who found that Campion was not disabled; the Appeals Council subsequently denied Campion’s request for review. Campion then appealed to this court. In December 2014, pursuant to a joint motion by the parties, this court remanded the case to the agency for further review.

         The case was assigned on remand to a new ALJ, who held a hearing in December 2015. The ALJ heard testimony from Campion, a vocational expert, and Dr. Mary Stevens, Ph.D., an impartial psychological expert. As relevant here, Dr. Stevens testified that, during the relevant timeframe, Campion had: mild restrictions in her activities of daily living; moderate difficulties with social functioning; and moderate difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace.[2] (AR 2343.) Dr. Stevens further offered the opinion that, in spite of these limitations, Campion would have been able to perform, on a full time basis, repetitive work duties involving brief and superficial contact with others. (AR 2344.) On January 13, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision again finding plaintiff not disabled. Campion again appealed to this court and again, this court remanded the case to the agency pursuant to a joint motion by the parties.

         On remand, the case was assigned to ALJ Virginia Kuhn, who held a third hearing on October 16, 2017. ALJ Kuhn heard testimony from Dr. Karen Butler, Ph.D., who testified as a psychological expert about Campion’s mental impairments. In contrast to Dr. Stevens, Dr. Butler testified that Campion’s mental impairments were not severe during the relevant time period. Butler recognized that plaintiff had anxiety, but found it to be well-controlled with medication. (AR 2250.) According to Dr. Butler, Campion’s limitations in the four areas of functioning (the “paragraph B” criteria) were “none or mild at most.”[3] (AR 2251.)

         On December 18, 2017, ALJ Kuhn issued a partially favorable decision, finding that Campion had been disabled for the period between July 1, 2004 (her alleged disability onset date) and August 31, 2005, as a result of physical complications related to her treatment for endometrial cancer. (AR 2185-2207.) ALJ Kuhn determined, however, that Campion’s condition had improved, such that by September 1, 2005, she had the functional ability to perform jobs available in significant No. in the national economy. In reaching her conclusions, the ALJ evaluated the evidence related to Campion’s mental impairments during the relevant time period, and expressly considered the opinions of Dr. Butler and Dr. Stevens. Rating Campion’s limitations in the four broad areas of functioning, the ALJ “combined” the opinions of Dr. Stevens and Dr. Butler and found that Campion had a “mild to moderate” limitation in the area of concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace. The ALJ further found that Campion had the following mental residual functional capacity:

she could perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks;
she could perform work where instructions were fixed and predictable from day to day and would align with a Specific Vocational Preparation of 1 or 2 as defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles;
the work should require at most occasional, brief, and superficial contact with others; and the work should not require collaboration or teamwork.

         The ALJ explained that in arriving at her mental RFC assessment, she had given great weight to Dr. Stevens’ conclusion at the second administrative hearing that Campion had the mental capacity to work full time provided the work was repetitive and involved only brief and superficial contact with others. (AR 2202.) The ALJ found Dr. Stevens’ conclusions to be

fully consistent with the substantial evidence; including the overall clinical findings and signs of mental illness; mental status examinations which indicated few abnormalities; the claimant’s conservative, yet successful outpatient medication regimen consisting only of Xanax; the lack of specialized mental therapy, psychiatric hospitalization, or emergency mental health treatments; and the claimant’s very high level of independence and broad range of activities.

(Id.) The ALJ further found that Dr. Stevens’ conclusions were largely consistent with those of James Alsdurf, Ph.D., an agency consulting psychologist who reviewed Campion’s medical records in April 2010. From his review, Alsdurf concluded that, although Campion had “moderate” difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, she had the ability during the relevant time period to concentrate, persist, and maintain adequate pace for jobs requiring the performance of routine, repetitive tasks involving at most three- to four-step, uncomplicated instructions. Dr. Alsdurf further found that Campion’s ability to interact and get along with co-workers was moderately limited, but adequate for brief and superficial contacts, and that she was able to follow an ordinary routine with the ordinary level of supervision found in most work settings. The ...

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