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Simpkins v. Colvin

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

February 10, 2014

BOBBIE BISHOP SIMPKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Bobbie Bishop Simpkins ("Simpkins") filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") finding her not disabled and therefore ineligible for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Specifically, Simpkins alleges that because she experiences blurry vision from seizure medication, the ALJ erred in his determination that Simpkins could perform sedentary work.

This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This case is before me by referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The parties have fully briefed all issues and the case is now ripe for decision. I have carefully reviewed the administrative record, the legal memoranda, and the applicable law. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Simpkins could perform sedentary work. As such, I RECOMMEND GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 10.

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 determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Simpkins 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). If such substantial evidence exists, the final decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed. Hays v. Sullivan , 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).

Simpkins 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 all forms of substantial gainful employment given her 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, 460-462 (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), 416.920(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 step five to establish that the claimant maintains the Residual Functioning 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

Simpkins was born on October 3, 1953 (Administrative Record, hereinafter "R." at 87), and is considered a person of advanced age under the Act. 20 CFR § 404.1563(c). Simpkins' last insured date was March 31, 2010. R. 9, 43. Therefore, Simpkins must show that her disability began before the end of her insurance period, 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). Simpkins attended school through the eleventh grade and obtained a GED. R. 191. She previously worked as a laundry folder (light, unskilled work), accounting clerk (skilled, sedentary work), and an office assistant (light semiskilled work). R. 23. Simpkins reported that during the relevant period, she was able to drive a vehicle (R. 63) and do yard work, including tending to her flower garden and riding on a lawnmower. R. 282.

Claim History

Simpkins protectively filed for DIB on August 11, 2010, claiming that her disability began on January 5, 2009. R. 178. The state agency denied her application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 106-10, 112-18. On November 3, 2011, Joseph T. Scruton ("ALJ") held a hearing to consider Simpkins' disability claim. R. 40-76. Simpkins was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Simpkins and vocational expert Mark A. Hileman. R. 54-59.

On December 7, 2011, the ALJ entered his decision denying Simpkins' claims. R. 24. The ALJ found that Simpkins suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, hip arthrosis, obesity, and epilepsy, which was controlled with medication during the period during the relevant time period. R. 11. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 12. The ALJ further found that Simpkins retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work, except Simpkins required in-place position shifts, and that she should avoid dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. R. 13. The ALJ determined that Simpkins could not return to her past relevant work as a laundry folder, accounting clerk, or office assistant (R. 23), but that Simpkins could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the ...


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