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Lambert v. Colvin

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

February 3, 2016

KATHY G. LAMBERT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Kathy G. Lambert ("Lambert") filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") finding her not disabled and therefore ineligible for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Lambert alleges that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by finding that she did not meet or equal listing § 14.03, concluding that she was capable of performing substantial gainful activity, and failing to properly weigh the opinion of her treating physician. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 20), and DENYING Lambert's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 18).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Lambert failed to demonstrate that she was disabled under the Act.[1] Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). "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 and alterations 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

Lambert filed for DIB on February 13, 2011, claiming that her disability began on December 1, 2010, due to autoimmune disease. R. 11, 152-60, 188-90. Lambert's date last insured was December 31, 2010. R. 13. Thus, she must show that her disability began on or before December 31, 2010 and existed for twelve continuous months to receive DIB. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B), (d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.101(a), 404.131(a). The state agency denied Lambert's application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 54-65, 66-77. On March 7, 2013, ALJ Jeffrey Schueler held a hearing to consider Lambert's disability claim. R. 23-53. Counsel represented Lambert at the hearing, which included testimony from vocational expert Mark Halman. Id.

On March 19, 2013, the ALJ entered his decision analyzing Lambert's claim under the familiar five-step process[2] and denying her claim for benefits. R. 11-19. The ALJ found that Lambert was insured at the time of the alleged disability onset and that she suffered from the severe impairments of polyarteritis nodosa, [3] hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and history of epilepsy/seizure disorder. R. 13. The ALJ determined that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 14. The ALJ concluded that Lambert retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a range of sedentary work.[4] R. 14-15. Specifically, the ALJ found that Lambert was capable of lifting and carrying 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, sitting for 6 hours in an 8 hour day, and standing and walking for 2 hours in an 8 hour day. Id . However, she must be able to alternate postural positions between sitting and standing at 30 minute intervals. Id . Further, Lambert was limited to no more than occasional pushing or pulling with upper extremities, occasional operating of foot controls with the lower extremities, occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, climbing ramps or stairs, and no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Id . Lambert could tolerate no concentrated exposure to unprotected heights or hazardous machinery. Id . The ALJ also found that Lambert would be off task up to 10% of the workday and absent from work no more than one day per month. Id.

The ALJ determined that Lambert was unable to return to her past relevant work as an after school aide, but that she could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as addresser, call out operator and printed circuit board assembly touch-up operator. R. 17-18. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Lambert was not disabled. R. 19. Lambert appealed the ALJ's decision, and on February 7, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Lambert's request for review. R. 1-5. This appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

A. Listing § 14.03(A) and (B)

Lambert argues that the ALJ erred by finding that her impairments did not meet listing § 14.03(A) and (B) for systemic vasculitis. In support, Lambert complains that the ALJ "does not explain why the symptoms first reported November 17, 2010, and then again on December 31, 2010 were not sufficient" to show a listing on or before the date last insured. Pl. Br. Summ. J. at 10, Dkt. No. 19. Lambert points to medical records subsequent to her date last insured, asserting that these symptoms never went away. She also argues that the ALJ should have consulted a medical advisor regarding the onset date of her conditions.

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). "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, No. 3:09cv00076, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11182, at *10, 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 Lambert must establish that she meets all of the specified medical criteria of a listing. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990).

Listing § 14.03(A) involves two or more organs/body systems, with: (1) one of the organs/body systems involved to at least a moderate level of severity; and (2) at least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss.) Listing § 14.03(B) involves repeated manifestations of systemic vasculitis, with at least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss) and one of the following at the marked level: (1) limitation of activities of daily living; (2) limitation in maintaining social functioning; or (3) limitation in completing tasks in a timely manner due to deficiencies in concentration, persistence, or pace.

The ALJ determined that Lambert's impairments did not meet either listing because the impairments were not of listing level severity on or before December 31, 2010. The ALJ observed that "although the evidence of record for the period [on or before December 31, 2010] documents symptoms of cramping, nausea, and abdominal pain, there is no evidence of any specific work-related limitations that derive from the medically determinable impairments or the symptoms they produce." R. 16. The ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Specifically, the record does not reflect that Lambert experienced a marked restriction in her ability to perform activities of daily living, maintain social functioning, or complete tasks in a timely manner due to deficiencies in concentration, ...


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