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Smith v. Colvin

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

March 7, 2016

JAMES TODD SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff James Todd Smith (“Smith”) 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, Smith alleges that the ALJ erred because she (1) failed to find that Smith’s medical condition met listing 12.05(C), and (2) failed to find that Smith was limited to sedentary work, which would entitle him to a finding of disability pursuant to the medical vocational guideline 201.17. I find that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision that Smith did not meet listing 12.05(C) and that Smith was not limited to sedentary work. Accordingly, I GRANT the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 16) and DENY Smith’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 12.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner’s conclusion that Smith failed to demonstrate that he was disabled under the Act.[2] 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 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

Smith filed for SSI and DIB on October 28, 2010, claiming that his disability began on August 18, 2008. R. 233-35. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial (R. 124-33) and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 135-40. On September 5, 2012, ALJ Anne V. Sprague held a hearing to consider Smith’s claim. R. 33-63. Smith was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from Smith and vocational expert Mr. Hileman. Id.

On March 13, 2013, the ALJ entered her decision analyzing Smith’s claim under the familiar five-step process, [3] and denying his claim for benefits. R. 12-24. The ALJ found that Smith suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the back and depression. R. 14. The ALJ also concluded that Smith was blind in his right eye. R. 17. The ALJ found that these impairments did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 15. The ALJ further found that Smith had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work. R. 25. Specifically, the ALJ found that Smith could occasionally climb stairs and ramps, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; that he should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and that he should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous equipment. R. 17. The ALJ also found that Smith was able to perform simple, routine, repetitive job tasks; to maintain reliable attendance at work; and to accept instructions from supervisors and deal appropriately with co-workers and the public. Id. The ALJ determined that Smith was able to complete a normal workweek without interruptions from his depressive symptoms and cognitive limitations and that he could handle the usual stressors of competitive work when not faced with strict, high-production demands. Id. The ALJ determined that Smith could not return to his past relevant work, but that he could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as garment folder and packager, merchandise marker, and cafeteria attendant. R. 23-24. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Smith was not disabled. On June 6, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Smith’s request for a review of the ALJ’s decision, and this appeal followed. R. 1-3.

SOCIAL AND VOCATIONAL HISTORY

Smith was born in October 1964 (R. 235) and was, at 43 years old, considered a younger individual on the date of his alleged disability onset date in August 2008. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). Smith completed the eighth grade before voluntarily leaving school to pursue a job as a mechanic. R. 57. He worked as a mechanic from at least March 1995 until August 2008. R. 278. Smith noted on his Function Report that he could feed his dog and let her out, that he had no problems dressing, bathing, and otherwise taking care of his personal needs, that he did not need reminders to take medications, and that he did not do household chores. R. 288-89. He reported that he did not prepare meals, but that this was because he could not cook. R. 289. He stated he was able to grocery shop, pay bills, count change, and handle a savings account, but he could not use a check book or money orders because he could “not write good enough.” R. 290.

ANALYSIS

Smith alleges that the ALJ erred by (1) failing to find that his medical condition met listing 12.05 and (2) failing to find that he was limited to sedentary work and was therefore disabled pursuant to the medical vocational guidelines. Having reviewed the record as a whole, I find that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision on both issues, and I affirm her decision.

Listing 12.05

Smith contends that the ALJ erred because she concluded that his condition did not meet or medically equal the listing contained in § 12.05 for an intellectual disability. Specifically, Smith argues that he met the criteria of § 12.05(C) because he had a valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70; he had an additional physical impairment consisting of his back injury; and his intellectual limitations initially manifested before he was 22 years old.

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 ...


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