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Owens v. Colvin

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

May 22, 2014


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

Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region III, Jillian Quick, Assistant Regional Counsel, and Antonia M. Pfeffer, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Defendant.


JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.

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


The plaintiff Crystal Gail Owens filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title 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).

Owens filed an application with the Commissioner for DIB on March 3, 2011. After preliminary denials of her claim, she obtained a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on February 20, 2013, at which Owens was represented by counsel and during which Owens testified along with a vocational expert, Cathy Sanders. On March 12, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Owens was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Owens requested review by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied request for review on September 26, 2013, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Owens 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 thus ripe for decision.


The plaintiff was 38 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. She has a high school education with some college training in accounting. She was working as a cashier in April of 2010 when she became ill and was discovered to have coronary blockage and underwent heart bypass surgery. She has not worked since then, although at a post-operative examination by a cardiologist in August of 2012 she was found to be stable with no further evaluation necessary. (R. at 518-20.)[1] At the hearing before the ALJ her attorney asserted that the basis for her claimed disability was fibromyalgia.[2] It is contended by the plaintiff in this action that the ALJ erred in giving little weight to the opinions in this regard by Jennifer L. Quesinberry, M.D., Owens' primary care physician. In addition, it is argued that the ALJ erred by failing to evaluate the cumulative effect of all of Owens' impairments.


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).

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 Owens 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) (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 "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). It is the role of the ALJ to resolve evidentiary conflicts, including inconsistencies in the evidence. Seacrist v. ...

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