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Carter v. Colvin

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

December 18, 2013

LAUREN ASHLEY CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, [1] Defendant.

Lewey K. Lee, Lee & Phipps, PC, Wise, Virginia, for Plaintiff

Eric P. Kressman, Regional Chief Counsel, Region III, Melissa K. Curry, Assistant Regional Counsel, and Kenneth DiVito, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

James P. Jones United States District Judge

In this Social Security disability case, I affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

I

Plaintiff Lauren Ashley Carter filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her claim for supplemental security income benefits ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1381-1383f (West 2011, 2012 & Supp. 2013). Jurisdiction of this court exists under 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

Carter filed for SSI administratively on January 2, 2008, with a claimed disability onset date of December 28, 2007. After preliminary denials of her claim, she obtained a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on March 18, 2010, at which she was represented by counsel and during which she testified along with an impartial vocational expert, Ann Marie Cash. On May 6, 2010, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Carter was not disabled under the Act. Carter requested review by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on June 18, 2012, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Carter then filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision.

The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment, which have been briefed. The case is ripe for decision.

II

Carter was 23 years old when her SSI application was filed. She has a high school education and has worked for brief periods in the past as a restaurant worker and as a cashier. She last worked in September of 2005. She claimed disability based upon degenerative disc disease, migraines, and depression and anxiety.

In his written decision, the ALJ reviewed Carter's medical history and the testimony presented at the hearing and set forth at length the reasons for her factual findings. She found that Carter had severe impairments of back pain, knee pain, migraines, depression, and anxiety. The ALJ found that Carter had no impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of a listed impairment under the applicable Social Security regulations. In addition, she found that Carter had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, as defined by the regulations, with limitations appropriate to her impairments. Based upon the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Carter was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy and thus was not disabled.

It is contended in the present case that the ALJ erred in her determination of Carter's residual functional capacity by rejecting the opinions of certain medical sources and in particular that of Ralph Ramsden, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who examined Carter at the request of her attorney on May 1, 2007, and June 5, 2007. It is also contended that the ALJ placed too much weight on the opinions of the state agency physicians who reviewed Carter's medical records but did not personally examine her.

III

The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that she is under a disability. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). The standard for disability is strict. The plaintiff must show that her "physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of ...


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