United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
For Vivian Brinegar Green, Plaintiff: Joel C. Cunningham, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, JOEL C. CUNNINGHAM, JR., PC, HALIFAX, VA.
For Carolyn Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Social Security Administration, Defendant: Maija DiDomenico, Office of General Counsel, SSA, Philadelphia, PA.
Hon. Glen E. Conrad, Chief United States District Judge.
Plaintiff has filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § § 416(i) and 423. Jurisdiction of this court is pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). As reflected by the memoranda and argument submitted by the parties, the issues before this court are whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence, and if it is not, whether plaintiff has met the burden of proof as prescribed by and pursuant to the Act. Stated briefly, substantial evidence has been defined as such relevant evidence, considering the record as a whole, as might be found adequate to support a conclusion by a reasonable mind. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).
The plaintiff, Vivian Brinegar Green, was born on December 18, 1957, and eventually completed her high school education. Mrs. Green also completed one year of college. (TR 44). Plaintiff has been employed as a respiratory therapist, deli worker, assembly line worker, and waitress. Apparently, Mrs. Green last worked on a regular and sustained basis in 2009. (TR 233-34).
It seems that plaintiff first filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits on May 24, 2007. These claims were denied upon initial consideration and reconsideration. She then requested and received a de novo hearing and review before an Administrative Law Judge. In an opinion dated November 4, 2009, the Law Judge also determined that Mrs. Green was not disabled. The Law Judge's opinion was adopted as the final decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. Mrs. Green appealed the adverse decision to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. However, the district court ultimately affirmed the Commissioner's final decision.
On October 21, 2010, plaintiff filed new applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. She alleged that she became disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on October 1, 2009 due to spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, bi-polar disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She now maintains that she has remained disabled to the present time. As to her application for disability insurance benefits, the record reveals that Mrs. Green met the insured status requirements of the Act through the first quarter of 2010, but not thereafter. See generally 42 U.S.C. § § 416(i) and 423(a). Consequently, plaintiff is entitled to disability insurance benefits only if she has established that she was disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on or before March 31, 2010. See generally, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a).
As to her claim for supplemental security income benefits, it was determined upon initial consideration that Mrs. Green was disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment as of the date of her application for benefits. (TR 130-43). Plaintiff began to receive supplemental security income
benefits. However, her claim for disability insurance benefits was denied upon initial consideration and reconsideration. Mrs. Green then sought and received a de novo hearing and review before a second Administrative Law Judge.
Following conduct of an administrative hearing, the second Law Judge rendered a decision on November 16, 2012. As to the period between plaintiff's alleged disability onset date of October 1, 2009 through November 4, 2009, the date of the Commissioner's final decision on plaintiff's earlier applications for benefits, the Law Judge ruled that Mrs. Green's claim of entitlement was barred under the doctrine of administrative res judicata. See 20C.F.R. § § 404.957 and 404.981. See also McGowen v. Harris, 666 F.2d 60 (4th Cir. 1981). Thus, the Law Judge determined that, for purposes of her claim for disability insurance benefits, it was necessary to determine whether plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Act at any time between November 5, 2009, the day following the date of the prior administrative decision, through March 31, 2010, the date of termination of plaintiff's insured status.
The Law Judge found that, during the period at issue, Mrs. Green suffered from several severe impairments, including degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, an affective disorder, and an anxiety disorder. Because of these impairments, the Law Judge held that Mrs. Green possessed a residual functional capacity for only a limited level of light work activity during the critical period. The Law Judge assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that she must be able to alternate between sitting and standing once every two hours. In addition, she was limited to positions that require no more than occasional bending, stooping, climbing, kneeling, crouching and crawling. Further, she could not work at jobs requiring interaction with the general public or more than occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers.
(TR 25). Given such a residual functional capacity, and after considering Mrs. Green's age, education, and prior work experience, as well as testimony from a vocational expert, the Law Judge held that plaintiff retained sufficient functional capacity to perform her past relevant work as an assembler at all relevant times through the date last insured. (TR 29). Relying on the testimony of the vocational expert, the Law Judge also found that, at all relevant times, plaintiff retained sufficient functional capacity to perform other light work roles existing in significant number in the national economy. (TR 31). Accordingly, the Law Judge ultimately concluded that Mrs. Green was not disabled at any time prior to the termination of insured status, and that she is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. See generally. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(f) and (g). The Law Judge's opinion was adopted as the final decision of the Commissioner by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. Having exhausted all available administrative remedies, Mrs. Green has now appealed to this court.
While plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment, the crucial factual determination is whether plaintiff was disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). There are four elements of proof which must be considered in making such ...