United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
REBECCA A. SNIDER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Rebecca A. Snider ("Snider") filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") determining that she was not disabled and therefore not eligible for supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. Specifically, Snider alleges that: (1) the denial decision fails to address the vocational expert's opinion as to the functional limitations associated with Snider's mental impairments; and, (2) the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") failed to give proper weight to the opinion of Snider's treating physician.
This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). This case is before me by referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The parties have fully briefed and argued all issues, and the case is ripe for decision. I have carefully reviewed the administrative record, the legal memoranda, the arguments of counsel, and the applicable law. I conclude that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING Snider's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 11), and GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 14.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Section 405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code authorizes judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits. Mastro v. Apfel , 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Snider failed to demonstrate that she was disabled under the Act. "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Craig v. Chater , 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed where substantial evidence supports the decision. Hays v. Sullivan , 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).
Snider bears the burden of proving that she is disabled within the meaning of the Act. English v. Shalala , 10 F.3d 1080, 1082 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)). The Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Disability under the Act requires showing more than the fact that the claimant suffers from an impairment which affects her ability to perform daily activities or certain forms of work. Rather, a claimant must show that her impairments prevent her from engaging in any and all forms of substantial gainful employment given the claimant's age, education, and work experience. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2).
The Commissioner uses a five-step process to evaluate a disability claim. Walls v. Barnhart , 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002). The Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1) is working; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; (4) can return to her past relevant work; and if not, (5) whether she can perform other work. Johnson v. Barnhart , 434 F.3d 650, 654 n.1 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520); Heckler v. Campbell , 461 U.S. 458, 460-62 (1983). The inquiry ceases if the Commissioner finds the claimant disabled at any step of the process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four to establish a prima facie case for disability. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step to establish that the claimant maintains the residual functional capacity ("RFC"), considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and impairments, to perform available alternative work in the local and national economies. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Taylor v. Weinberger , 512 F.2d 664, 666 (4th Cir. 1975).
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Social and Vocational History
Snider was born on July 29, 1963 (Administrative Record, hereinafter "R." at 203), and was considered a younger person under the Act on her alleged onset date. R. 81; 20 C.F.R. § 416.963. Snider has a ninth grade education. R. 42. Snider worked intermittently as box closer from 1991-1998, which was evaluated by a vocational expert as a medium exertion, unskilled work. R. 57. Snider also worked as a self employed house cleaner from 2004-2008, which was evaluated by a vocational expert as unskilled, light exertion work. R. 42-44, 234. Snider reported that during the relevant period, she had the capacity to feed her animals, take her older dog out, make her bed, get dressed, run errands, and fix supper. R. 253.
Snider protectively filed for SSI on December 10, 2008, claiming that her disability began on June 15, 2008. R. 26, 202. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 93, 105. On May 11, 2011, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joseph T. Scruton held a hearing to consider Snider's disability claim. R. 32-71. Snider was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Snider and vocational expert James B. Williams. R. 33-64.
On May 27, 2011, the ALJ entered his decision denying Snider's SSI claim. R. 16-25. The ALJ found that Snider suffered from the severe impairments of multiple sclerosis ("MS"), degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with left C7 sensory radiculopathy, and anxiety. R. 18. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 18. The ALJ further found that Snider retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work that allowed for the use of a cane for ambulation; involved occasional overhead reaching, and less than constant handling, fingering, or non-overhead reaching; and tasks that involved following short, simple instructions. R. 18. The ALJ determined that Snider could not return to her past relevant work as a house cleaner, or package sealer/box closer (R. 23), but that Snider could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy: namely order clerk, officer addresser, or ampoule sealer. R. 24. Thus, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled. R. 25. On October 3, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Snider's request for review (R. 1), and this appeal followed.
Vocational Expert Hypothetical
Snider alleges several errors relating to the vocational expert's testimony in this case. Specifically, Snider claims that the ALJ failed to include limitations from her mental impairments in the hypothetical presented to the vocational expert. Snider also argues that the ALJ failed to incorporate all provisions of the vocational expert's testimony into the denial decision, and further, that ...