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Minnix v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

February 18, 2014

CATHY K. MINNIX, Plaintiff,


James P. Jones United States District Judge

Lewey K. Lee, Lee & Phipps, PC, Wise, Virginia, for Plaintiff; Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region III, Kimberly Varillo, Assistant Regional Counsel, and Allyson Jozwik, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Defendant.

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


Plaintiff Cathy K. Minnix filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 401-434, 1381-1383f (West 2011, 2012 & Supp. 2013). Jurisdiction of this court exists under 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

Minnix filed an application for DIB on May 20, 2008, and for SSI on October 6, 2009. After preliminary denials of her claims, she obtained a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on May 12, 2011, at which she was represented by counsel and during which she testified along with a vocational expert, Annmarie E. Cash, Ph.D. On June 20, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Minnix was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Minnix requested review by the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on September 26, 2012, thereby making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Minnix 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.


Minnix claimed that she had been unable to work since January 15, 2008, based upon both exertional and nonexertional impairments. At the time of the hearing before the ALJ Minnix was 32 years old. She has a college associate degree and has worked in the past as a residential assistant for disabled adults, a Wal-Mart sales associate, and as a customer service representative for Cingular Wireless. She lives in an apartment with her husband, who is unemployed and receives Social Security disability benefits.

In his written decision, the ALJ reviewed Minnix’s medical history and the testimony presented at the hearing and set forth at length the reasons for his factual findings. He found that Minnix had severe impairments consisting of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and obesity. The ALJ found that Minnix did not have an impairment that met or equaled the severity of a listed impairment under the applicable Social Security regulations. He found that in spite of her impairments, Minnix was capable of performing her past work as a customer service representative and thus was not under a disability.

It is contended in the present case that the ALJ erred by (a) failing to find that she suffered from severe mental impairments, and (b) by failing to give appropriate consideration to the plaintiff’s obesity and its effects on her ability to work.


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. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

In assessing disability claims, the Commissioner applies a five-step sequential evaluation process. The Commissioner 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 her past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether she could perform other work present in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4) (2013). The fourth and fifth steps of the inquiry require an assessment of the claimant’s residual functional ...

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