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Lucas v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

February 10, 2014

CYNTHIA ROBERTSON LUCAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Cynthia Robertson Lucas ("Lucas") 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"), and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. Specifically, Lucas alleges that the ALJ improperly discounted opinions made by a treating source and a consultative examiner.

This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 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 Lucas's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 10), and GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 13.

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 Lucas 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).

Lucas 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;[2] (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

Lucas was born on June 16, 1967 (Administrative Record, hereinafter "R." at 84), and was considered a younger person under the Act on her alleged onset date. R. 194; C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963. Lucas's last date insured is March 31, 2010. R. 116. She must show that her disability began before that date and existed for twelve continuous months to receive DIB. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B), (d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.101(a), 404.131(a). Lucas has an associate's degree in science, and previously worked as a beautician (light, skilled work), certified medical assistant (medium, skilled work), janitor (light, unskilled work), workout trainer (light, semiskilled work), cashier (light, unskilled work), and receptionist/telephone operator (semi-skilled, sedentary work). R. 84, 107-08, 281, 288, 299. Lucas reported that during the relevant period she had the capacity to cook, wash dishes and clothes, shop, walk her dog, play cards, watch television, and clean. R. 94, 308-15.

Claim History

Lucas protectively filed for SSI and DIB on June 5, 2009, [3] claiming that her disability began on February 25, 2005. R. 17, 257-63. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 174-86, 189-99. On July 26, 2011, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Geraldine H. Page held a hearing to consider Lucas's disability claim. R. 14-30. Lucas was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Lucas and vocational expert Gerald K. Wells. R. 81-115.

On August 25, 2011, the ALJ entered her decision denying Lucas's claims. R. 30. The ALJ found that Lucas suffered from the severe impairments of mild degenerative changes of the right hip, degenerative facet arthritis of the lumbar spine, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse which was in remission. R. 20. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 20. The ALJ further found that Lucas retained the RFC to perform light work, but she is limited to occasionally kneeling, stooping, crawling and climbing of stairs; she can frequently balance and crouch; however, she cannot perform work that requires exposure to dangerous machinery, unprotected heights, vibration, ropes, ladders and scaffolds. Lucas is limited to tasks that involve no interaction with the public, and only occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers. R. 26. The ALJ determined that Lucas could return to her past relevant work as janitor, and can also work at jobs that exist in ...


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