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Martin v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division

March 13, 2014

ROBERT HARVEY MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,[1] Defendant.

E. Craig Kendrick, Browning, Lamie & Gifford, P.C., Abingdon, Virginia, for Plaintiff.

Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region III, Eda Giusti, Assistant Regional Counsel, and Rafael Melendez, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

James P. Jones, United States District Judge.

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

I

Plaintiff Robert Harvey Martin filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying his claim for supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1381-1383f (West 2012 & Supp. 2013). Jurisdiction of this court exists under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1383(c)(3).

Martin filed for SSI with the Social Security Administration on February 17, 2009. After preliminary denials of his claims, he obtained a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on January 19, 2011, at which he was represented by counsel and during which he testified along with an impartial vocational expert, James Williams. On March 11, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Martin was not disabled under the Act. Martin requested review by the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied his request for review on September 25, 2012, thus making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Martin then filed this action, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision.

The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, which were briefed and thereafter orally argued by counsel on March 4, 2014. The case is now ripe for decision.

II

At the time of the ALJ’s decision, Martin was 46 years old. He attended school until the ninth or tenth grade. He last worked for pay in 1996 as a construction assistant superintendent building McDonald’s restaurants. In his written decision, the ALJ found that Martin had a severe impairment consisting of a “history of kidney stones.” (R. at 21.) The ALJ reviewed Martin’s medical history and the evidence presented at the hearing and set forth the reasons for his factual findings. He found that Martin did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment,[2] had no past relevant work, and that he had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work. Based upon the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Martin was capable of performing jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy.

It is contended in the present case that the ALJ erroneously resolved the evidence in finding Martin not disabled. In particular, it is argued that the ALJ (1) should not have accepted opinions of State Agency consulting physicians who stated opinions after reviewing Martin’s medical records but who had not examined him; (2) failed to adequately explain his reasons for finding Martin only partially credible; (3) should not have relied upon Martin’s activities of daily living as relevant evidence; (4) should not have relied upon Martin’s failure to follow up on a referral to a specialist by his primary care physician; (5) erred in finding Martin’s mental impairments to be non-severe; (6) failed to consider the application of a Listed Impairment relating to impairments resulting from chronic renal disease; and (7) failed to obtain consultative evaluations of Martin for his kidney stones and his mental issues.

III

The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that he 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 his “physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

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


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