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Kincer v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

September 30, 2014

KIESHA C. KINCER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PAMELA MEADE SARGENT, Magistrate Judge.

I. Background and Standard of Review

Plaintiff, Kiesha C. Kincer, ("Kincer"), filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, ("Commissioner"), denying plaintiff's claims for disability insurance benefits, ("DIB"), and supplemental security income, ("SSI"), under the Social Security Act, as amended, ("Act"), 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 423 and 1381 et seq. (West 2011 & West 2012). Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). This case is before the undersigned magistrate judge by transfer based on consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). Oral argument has not been requested, therefore, the matter is ripe for decision.

The court's review in this case is limited to determining if the factual findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence and were reached through application of the correct legal standards. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence has been defined as "evidence which a reasoning mind would accept as sufficient to support a particular conclusion. It consists of 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). "If there is evidence to justify a refusal to direct a verdict were the case before a jury, then there is "substantial evidence."'" Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Laws, 368 F.2d at 642).

The record shows that Kincer protectively filed her applications for SSI and DIB on November 6, 2008, alleging disability as of February 21, 2008, due to a neck and back injury, anxiety with tremors, headaches and depression. (Record ("R."), at 12, 219-20, 221-23, 233, 267.) The claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. at 56-79, 82-111, 140, 141-43, 145-50, 152-54.) Kincer then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, ("ALJ"). (R. at 155-56.) A videoconference hearing was held on Kincer's claims on December 13, 2011. (R. at 28-55.) Kincer was represented by counsel at this hearing. (R. at 28.)

By decision dated January 10, 2012, the ALJ denied Kincer's claims. (R. at 12-22.) The ALJ found that Kincer met the disability insured status requirements of the Act for DIB purposes through June 30, 2014. (R. at 12, 14.) The ALJ found that Kincer had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 21, 2008, the alleged onset date. (R. at 14.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Kincer had severe impairments, namely fibromyalgia/arthralgias, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, headaches, depression, anxiety and a personality disorder, but the ALJ found that Kincer did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 15.) The ALJ found that Kincer had the residual functional capacity to perform light work[1] that did not require her to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds or crawl, to be exposed to unprotected heights or moving machinery or concentrated exposure to excessive noise or excessive vibrations or more than occasionally climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling or crouching. (R. at 16-20.) The ALJ also found that Kincer was limited to simple, routine, repetitive unskilled tasks with no more than occasional interaction with the public, co-workers or supervisors. (R. at 16-20.) The ALJ found that Kincer had no past relevant work. (R. at 20.) Based on Kincer's age, education, work experience, residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that a significant number of jobs existed in the national economy that Kincer could perform, including jobs as a general office clerk, an order clerk and an office messenger. (R. at 20-21.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Kincer was not under a disability as defined by the Act and was not eligible for DIB or SSI benefits. (R. at 21.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g) (2013).

After the ALJ issued his decision, Kincer pursued her administrative appeals, but the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-5, 7.) Kincer then filed this action seeking review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which now stands as the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481 (2013). The case is before this court on Kincer's motion for summary judgment filed January 15, 2014, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment filed April 21, 2014.

II. Facts and Analysis

Kincer was born in 1978, (R. at 56), which, at the time of the ALJ's decision, classified her as a "younger person" under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). Kincer graduated from high school and attended two years of college. (R. at 240.) In rendering his decision, the ALJ reviewed records from Wise Resident's Clinic; Wise Medical Group Health Care; Dr. Michael Moore, M.D.; Norton Community Hospital; Dickenson Clinic; Mountain View Regional Medical Center; Dr. Kevin Blackwell, D.O.; Wise County Behavioral Health Services; Blue Ridge Neuroscience Center; Richard J. Milan Jr., Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; B. Wayne Lanthorn, Ph.D.; Frontier Health Assessment and Forensic Services; Julie Jennings, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist; Dr. Richard Surrusco, M.D., a state agency physician; Dr. Galileo Molina, M.D.; Dr. Erin Mullins, M.D., with Norwise, OB-GYN; Dr. Uzma Ehtesham, M.D., a psychiatrist; and Dr. Thomas Phillips, M.D., a state agency physician. Kincer's attorney also submitted medical reports from Dr. Moore to the Appeals Council.[2]

The Commissioner uses a five-step process in evaluating DIB and SSI claims. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920 (2013). See also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-62 (1983); Hall v. Harris, 658 F.2d 260, 264-65 (4th Cir. 1981). This process requires the Commissioner to consider, in order, whether a claimant 1) is working; 2) has a severe impairment; 3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; 4) can return to her past relevant work; and 5) if not, whether she can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. If the Commissioner finds conclusively that a claimant is or is not disabled at any point in this process, review does not proceed to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a) (2013).

Under this analysis, a claimant has the initial burden of showing that she is unable to return to her past relevant work because of her impairments. Once the claimant establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. To satisfy this burden, the Commissioner must then establish that the claimant has the residual functional capacity, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience and impairments, to perform alternative jobs that exist in the national economy. See 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A)-(B) (West 2011 & West 2012); McLain v. Schweiker, 715 F.2d 866, 868-69 (4th Cir. 1983); Hall, 658 F.2d at 264-65; Wilson v. Califano, 617 F.2d 1050, 1053 (4th Cir. 1980).

By decision dated January 10, 2012, the ALJ denied Kincer's claims. (R. at 12-22.) The ALJ found that the medical evidence established that Kincer had severe impairments, namely fibromyalgia/arthralgias, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, headaches, depression, anxiety and a personality disorder, but the ALJ found that Kincer did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 15.) The ALJ found that Kincer had the residual functional capacity to perform light work that did not require her to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds or crawl, to be exposed to unprotected heights or moving machinery or concentrated exposure to excessive noise or excessive vibrations or more than occasionally climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling or crouching. (R. at 16-20.) The ALJ also found that Kincer was limited to simple, routine, repetitive unskilled tasks with no more than occasional interaction with the public, co-workers or supervisors. (R. at 16-20.) The ALJ found that Kincer had no past relevant work. (R. at 20.) Based on Kincer's age, education, work experience, residual functional capacity and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that a significant number of jobs existed in the national economy that Kincer could perform, including jobs as a general office clerk, an order clerk and an office messenger. (R. at 20-21.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Kincer was not under a disability as defined by the Act and was not eligible for DIB or SSI benefits. (R. at 21.) See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).

In her brief, Kincer argues that the ALJ's finding that she was not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence. (Plaintiff's Memorandum In Support Of Her Motion For Summary Judgment, ("Plaintiff's Brief"), at 5-8.) In particular, Kincer argues that the ALJ erred by making incomplete findings at step three of the sequential process. (Plaintiff's Brief at 5-6.) Kincer also argues that substantial evidence does not exist in the record to support the ALJ's findings as to her residual functional capacity. (Plaintiff's Brief at 6-8.)

As stated above, the court's function in this case is limited to determining whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the ALJ's findings. This court must not weigh the evidence, as this court lacks authority to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner, provided her decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456. In determining whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, the court also must consider whether the ALJ analyzed all of the relevant evidence and whether the ALJ sufficiently ...


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