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Garcia v. Colvin

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

February 18, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Anthony Paul Garcia ("Garcia") filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") determining that he 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, Garcia alleges that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") committed error in weighing the opinion of his treating physician, George Wagner, M.D.

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 substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision to adopt parts of Dr. Wagner's opinion. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING Garcia's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 11), and GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 14, 16).


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 Garcia failed to demonstrate that he 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).

Garcia bears the burden of proving that he 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 his ability to perform daily activities or certain forms of work. Rather, a claimant must show that his impairments prevent him 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 his past relevant work; and if not, (5) whether he 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).


Social and Vocational History

Garcia was born on February 23, 1963 (Administrative Record, hereinafter "R." at 195), and was considered a younger person under the Act on his alleged onset date. R. 281; 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). Garcia has an eighth grade education, and was awarded a GED in 2001. R. 470. Garcia previously worked as an assembly line worker (light unskilled work), a cook (semi-skilled, light work), machine operator (unskilled light work), and a manager at a health center (semi-skilled, light work). R. 281. Garcia reported that during the relevant period, he had the capacity to wash dishes, do light dusting, shop for groceries, cook in the oven and microwave, take short walks, and pay his bills. R. 469.

Claim History

Garcia protectively filed his application for SSI on May 4, 2007, claiming that his disability began on December 31, 2000. R. 196. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 90-93, 95-96. On September 19, 2009, ALJ Frederick McGrath held a hearing to consider Garcia's disability claim. R. 43-47. However, due to incarceration at Valhalla County Jail, Garcia did not attend the hearing and his case was dismissed. R. 44-46, 84. Garcia filed a Request for Review with the Appeals Council, seeking good cause for missing the hearing. On July 1, 2010, the Appeals Council remanded the claim to the ALJ for a new hearing. R. 88-89. On February 8, 2011, ALJ Geraldine H. Page held a second administrative hearing. R. 49-79. Garcia, his attorney, and vocational expert, Mr. Robert Jackson were all in attendance at the second hearing. R. 49-79.

On March 25, 2011, the ALJ entered her decision denying Garcia's claims. R. 33. The ALJ found that Garcia suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, borderline intellectual functioning, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), substance induced mood disorder, alcohol abuse, history of cocaine abuse, and anti-social personality traits. R. 21. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 25. The ALJ further found that Garcia retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work, except that he is limited to: lifting/carrying twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; standing for a total of two hours, walking for a total of two hours, and sitting for a total of 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; occasionally using ramps, stairs, balancing, kneeling, stooping, crouching, and reaching with his right shoulder. The ALJ found that Garcia should not crawl or be exposed to extremely hot/cold temperatures, humidity, pollutants, irritants, hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds, or being on vibrating surfaces; is limited to occasional interaction with co-workers and the general public; and is limited to work that has only simple, routine, repetitive, unskilled tasks R. 27. The ALJ determined that Garcia could not return to his past relevant work as a flagger, cook, tire changer, stock ...

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