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Campbell v. Colvin

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

July 28, 2014

KATHRYN ELIZABETH CAMPBELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Kathryn Elizabeth Campbell ("Campbell") filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") determining that she was not disabled and therefore not eligible for supplemental security income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. Specifically, Campbell alleges that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erroneously found that Campbell did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment and improperly discredited her testimony. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision on both grounds. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING Campbell's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 15), and GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 19.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Campbell failed to demonstrate that she was disabled under the Act.[2] "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).

CLAIM HISTORY

Campbell protectively filed for SSI and DIB on January 30, 2009, claiming that her disability began on December 1, 2008. R. 12. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 12, 103-12, 115-20. On October 12, 2011, ALJ Geraldine H. Page held a hearing to consider Campbell's disability claim. R. 28-52. Campbell was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Campbell and vocational expert John F. Newman. R. 28-52.

On October 26, 2011, the ALJ entered her decision analyzing Campbell's claim under the familiar five-step process[3] and denying her claims for benefits. R. 9-23. The ALJ found that Campbell suffered from the severe impairments of status-post closure of lipomyelomeningocele (a fatty tumor located on the spinal cord) and treatment of lipoma at 4 months old; obesity; degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine; and left knee joint effusion. R. 14-15. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 16. The ALJ further found that Campbell retained the RFC to perform a range of sedentary work, with the following additional limitations:

Specifically, the claimant can lift and/or carry 10 pounds frequently and occasionally; can stand and/or walk for up to two hours and sit for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday; requires the opportunity to change posture between sitting and standing every hour, briefly and in place without leaving the workstations; can never crawl; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel, stoop, and crouch; and should avoid exposure to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, working on vibrating surfaces, or climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.

R. 16. The ALJ determined that Campbell could not return to her past relevant work as a food service worker, housekeeper, personal care attendant, cashier, and shift manager (R. 22), but that Campbell could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy: namely packer, inspector, tester, assembler, and sorter. R. 23. Thus, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled. R. 23. On February 6, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Campbell's request for review (R. 1-4), and this appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

Campbell asserts that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence for two reasons. First, Campbell contends that the ALJ's analysis was flawed with regard to whether Campbell met or medically equaled the listing for a musculoskeletal impairment. Second, Campbell asserts that the ALJ improperly discredited his testimony using boilerplate language.

Listing

Campbell argues that she is disabled, and thereby eligible for benefits, because she suffers from a back impairment which qualifies as a "disorder of the spine" under Musculoskeletal Listing 1.04. The ALJ considered Listing 1.04 in her analysis, but determined that Campbell did not meet or medically equal the requirements of Listing 1.04. R. 16. Specifically, the ALJ noted that "[t]he current evidence... fails to establish an impairment that is accompanied by signs that are reflective of listing-level severity. Also, none of the claimant's treating or examining physicians of record has reported any of the necessary clinical, laboratory, or radiographic findings specified therein." R. 16. I find that while Campbell suffers from a significant back impairment, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion that her condition does not meet or medically equal the listing so as to automatically result in a finding of disability at step three of the sequential analysis.

A "listed impairment" is one considered by the Social Security Administration "to be severe enough to prevent an individual from doing any gainful activity, regardless of his or her age, education, or work experience." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525(a), 416.925(a). "When satisfied, the listings of impairments automatically result in a finding of disability. The listings are designed to reflect impairments that, for the most part, are permanent or expected to result in death.'" Casillas v. Astrue, 3:09-CV-00076, 2011 WL 450426, at *4 (W.D. Va. Feb. 3, 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(c)(4)). It is well settled that Campbell must establish that she meets all of the requirements of a listing. Sullivan v. Zebley , 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990).

Listing 1.04(A) for disorders of the spine requires proof of the following:

1.04 Disorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, vertebral fracture) resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equine) or the spinal cord. With:
A. Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of ...

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