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Seamster v. Colvin

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

February 11, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Jessie Cleveland Seamster ("Seamster") filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") determining that he 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, Seamster alleges that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when he (1) failed to find evidence of Seamster's adaptive functioning deficits prior to age 22 and (2) failed to complete a function-by-function analysis. Seamster only contests the ALJ's findings regarding his mental abilities and does not object to the ALJ's conclusions regarding his physical residual functioning capacity ("RFC").

This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). This case is before me by referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The parties have fully briefed all issues, and the case is ripe for decision. I have carefully reviewed the administrative record, the legal memoranda, the arguments of counsel, and the applicable law. I conclude that the ALJ did not err and that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. Accordingly, I RECOMMEND DENYING Seamster's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 16), and GRANTING the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 18.


Section 405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code authorizes judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits. Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001). This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's conclusion that Seamster failed to demonstrate that he was disabled under the Act. "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).

Seamster bears the burden of proving that he is disabled within the meaning of the Act. English v. Shalala, 10 F.3d 1080, 1082 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)). The Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Disability under the Act requires showing more than the fact that the claimant suffers from an impairment which affects his ability to perform daily activities or certain forms of work. Rather, a claimant must show that his impairments prevent engaging in any and all forms of substantial gainful employment given the claimant's age, education, and work experience. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

The Commissioner uses a five-step process to evaluate a disability claim. Walls v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 287, 290 (4th Cir. 2002). The Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1) is working; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment;[1] (4) can return to his past relevant work; and if not, (5) whether he can perform other work. Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 654 n.1 (4th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520); Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-62 (1983). The inquiry ceases if the Commissioner finds the claimant disabled at any step of the process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four to establish a prima facie case for disability. The burden shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step to establish that the claimant maintains the RFC, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and impairments, to perform available alternative work in the local and national economies. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Taylor v. Weinberger, 512 F.2d 664, 666 (4th Cir. 1975).


Social and Vocational History

Seamster was born in April of 1976 (Administrative Record, hereinafter "R." at 171), and was 37 years old as at the time of his alleged onset, making him a younger individual under the Act. R. 171; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563, 416.963. Seamster's last insured date is March 31, 2015. R.15. Therefore he must show that his disability began before that date 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). Seamster completed high school, but could not recall whether he received a general diploma or a special education diploma. R. 36-37. Seamster previously worked as a resin gun operator at a manufacturing company where he applied fiberglass to bathtubs. R. 38. He also installed insulation for approximately four years, and worked as a pipe layer for approximately six months. R. 40. Seamster reported that during the relevant period, he had the capacity to help his children get ready for school, prepare leftovers and sandwiches to eat, do light housework, shop for groceries with his wife, handle cash, visit family and friends, and attend church. R. 242-49. He also reported that he had difficulty using his right arm to complete his personal needs, that he cannot read or write well, and that he had trouble with concentration, memory, and pain with lifting or reaching. Id.

Claim History

Seamster filed for SSI and DIB on October 7, 2011, claiming that his disability began on December 1, 2009. R. 171. At the hearing before the ALJ, Seamster amended his onset date to February of 2011. R. 35. The Commissioner denied his application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 53, 79. On June 18, 2013, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Brian P. Kilbane held a hearing to consider Seamster's disability claim. R. 32-52. Seamster was represented by an attorney, Joel C. Cunningham, Jr., at the hearing, which included testimony from Seamster and vocational expert Stacy Voss. R. 32.

On June 27, 2013, the ALJ entered his decision denying Seamster's claims. R. 13-26. The ALJ found that Seamster suffered from the severe impairments of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, right shoulder impairment status post surgery, and borderline intellectual functioning. R. 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 Seamster retained the RFC to perform light work, with no more than frequent overhead reaching with his dominant right upper extremity. R. 18. The ALJ also concluded that Seamster was functionally illiterate, but that he could perform simple, routine, unskilled work on a sustained basis in a competitive environment. Id . The ALJ determined that Seamster could not return to his past relevant work as a pipe layer, insulation installer, or resin gun operator (R. 24), but that Seamster could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national ...

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