United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
DEBORAH A. LUNDBLAD, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,  Defendant.
Ginger J. Largen, Morefield & Largen, P.L.C., Abingdon, Virginia, for Plaintiff; Nora R. Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region III, Alexander L. Cristaudo, Assistant Regional Counsel, and Stephen M. Ball, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.
In this Social Security disability case, I affirm the decision of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff Deborah A. Lundblad filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying his claim for supplemental security income benefits ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1381-1383f (West 2012 & Supp. 2013). Jurisdiction of this court exists under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1383(c)(3).
Lundblad filed an application for SSI with the Social Security Administration on October 15, 2007. After preliminary denials of her claims, she obtained a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on May 4, 2010. On May 28, 2010, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Lundblad was not disabled under the Act. The Social Security Administration's Appeals Council reviewed the case and remanded the claim to the ALJ for further evidence and decision. The ALJ held a second hearing on September 28, 2011, and on November 11, 2011, issued a decision again denying the claim. The Appeals Council denied review of this decision on November 6, 2012, thus making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Lundblad then filed this action, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.
The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment, which have been briefed and thereafter orally argued by counsel. The case is now ripe for decision.
Lundblad is 47 years old. She left school after the seventh grade and was later unable to pass a GED examination. She previously worked as a housekeeper at various motels, cleaning rooms. She lives with her boyfriend and her young daughter. Lundblad claimed to the Social Security Administration that she was unable to work due to a combination of physical and mental impairments. In his final written decision, the ALJ found that Lundblad had the following severe impairments: "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic lumbar strain, possible post-traumatic degenerative joint disorder of the left ankle, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder without agoraphobia, and alcohol dependence in reported remission." (R. 22.)
The ALJ reviewed Lundblad's medical history and the evidence presented at the hearings and set forth the reasons for his factual findings. He found that Lundblad did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment, that she had the residual functional capacity to perform light excertional work, with appropriate limitations in accord with her recognized impairments. Based upon the testimony of a vocational expert, Ann Marie Cash, the ALJ determined that Lundblad was capable of performing her past relevant work as a housekeeper. Accordingly, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
It is contended in the present case that the ALJ erred by (1) failing to fully accept and apply the opinions of Christopher M. Carusi, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who saw and evaluated Lundblad for the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services, and Pamela S. Tessnear, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who saw and evaluated Lundblad at the request of her attorney; and (2) failing to consider the cumulative effect of Lundblad's physical and mental impairments.
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 substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy...." 42 U.S.C.A. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
In assessing disability claims, the ALJ must apply a five-step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ considers whether the claimant: (1) has worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a condition that meets or equals the severity of a listed impairment; (4) could return to past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether she could perform other work present in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4) (2013). The fourth and fifth steps of the inquiry require an assessment of the claimant's residual functional capacity, ...