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Keen v. Colvin

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

May 21, 2014


Ginger J. Largen, Morefield & Largen, P.L.C., Abingdon, Virginia, for Plaintiff

Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region III, Christy Whitfield, Assistant Regional Counsel, and Stephen M. Ball, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Defendant.


James P. Jones United States District Judge

In this social security case, I affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.

I Plaintiff, James Adam Keen, filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) Titles II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C.A. § 401-434 (West 2011 & Supp. 2013). Jurisdiction of this court exists under 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g).

Keen filed an application for DIB on December 24, 2009, claiming disability since November 30, 2009. After preliminary denials of his claim, he obtained a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on March 2, 2012, at which Keen was represented by counsel and during which Keen testified along with a vocational expert, Annmarie E. Cash. On May 4, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Keen was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Keen requested review by the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on July 13, 2013, thereby making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Keen 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. Oral argument was held on May 14, 2014. The case is ripe for decision.


At the time of the ALJ’s decision, Keen was 37 years old.[1] He has a high school education and has previous work experience as a correctional officer, truck driver, forklift operator, and dispatcher. In his written decision, the ALJ found that he had the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and thoracic spine status post diskectomy and fusion.” (R. at 16.) The ALJ reviewed Keen’s medical history and the evidence presented at the hearing and set forth the reasons for his factual findings. He found that Keen did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment, and that he had the residual functional capacity to perform the light excertional work as required by his past relevant work as a dispatcher. Alternatively, the ALJ found, based upon the testimony of the vocational expert, that Keen 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 Keen not disabled. In particular, it is argued that the ALJ erred (1) in finding that Keen’s mental impairments of depression and anxiety were non-severe; (2) in using Keen’s documented activities of daily living as basis for finding that he was not disabled; and (3) in failing to “analyze the cumulative effects of all of Keen’s medical problems.” (Pl.’s Brief 9-10.)


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. § 423(d)(2)(A).

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 his past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether he could perform other work present in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (2013). The fourth and fifth steps of the inquiry require an assessment of the claimant’s residual functional capacity, which is then compared with the physical and mental demands of the claimant’s past relevant work and of other work present in the national economy.

In accordance with the Act, I must uphold the Commissioner’s findings if substantial evidence supports them and the findings were reached through the application of the correct legal standard. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Substantial evidence means ‚Äúsuch relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a ...

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