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Davis v. Colvin

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

March 16, 2016

MICHAEL B. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff Michael B. Davis (“Davis”) challenges the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) determining that he was not disabled and therefore not eligible for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Davis asserts that the ALJ erred by (1) not finding that his post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) met or equaled the listing under 12.06; (2) failing to properly consider the combination of all of his impairments and their impact on his RFC; (3) failing to posit a hypothetical question to the vocational expert (“VE”) that adequately reflected all of his impairments; and (4) finding Davis and his wife to be only partially credible. Davis also argues that the Appeals Council erred when it did not remand the case after receipt of additional evidence. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner’s decision. Accordingly, I GRANT the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 17.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court limits its review to a determination of whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner’s conclusion that Davis 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 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

Davis filed for DIB on June 1, 2011, claiming that his disability began on March 2, 2011. R. 177. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 70, 86. On July 8, 2013, ALJ Mary C. Peltzer held a hearing to consider Davis’s disability claim. R. 35-69. Davis was represented by an attorney at the hearing, which included testimony from vocational expert Andrew Beall. Id.

On August 6, 2013, the ALJ entered her decision analyzing Davis’s claim under the familiar five-step process[3] and denying Davis’s claim for benefits. R. 21-31.

The ALJ found that Davis suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease at L5-S1 and PTSD. R. 23. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 24. The ALJ further found that Davis retained the RFC to perform medium work, except that he could have no more than occasional exposure to extreme heat and humidity; could only perform unskilled work with no more than simple, work-related decisions and no work where the pace of productivity is dictated by an external source over which he has no control, such as an assembly line or conveyor belt; could have no contact with the general public; and could only have occasional contact with supervisors and coworkers and no tandem work assignments. R. 26. The ALJ determined that Davis could not return to his relevant past work as a shift supervisor and dye plant supervisor (R. 30), but that Davis could work at jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, such as counter supply worker, detailer, or cleaner. R. 30-31. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Davis was not disabled. R. 31. On September 20, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Davis’s request for review (R. 1) and this appeal followed.

SOCIAL AND VOCATIONAL HISTORY

Davis was born in 1968 and was 42 years old when he applied for disability benefits (R. 175), making him a younger individual. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). Davis completed some college coursework (R. 41) and lives with his spouse and two children. R. 40-41. His previous work experience includes working as a supervisor at a wastewater treatment plant and at a dye plant. Davis also served in the military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. R. 267.

ANALYSIS

12.06 Listing

Davis argues that the ALJ erred in finding that his PTSD did not meet or equal listing 12.06 for anxiety. Specifically, Davis contends that the ALJ failed to discuss whether he met the Paragraph A criteria of 12.06 and incorrectly found that he had no limitations in activities of daily living and only moderate limitations in his social functioning and ability to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace.

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, 3:09-CV-00076, 2011 WL 450426, at *4 (W.D. Va. Feb. 3, 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(c)(4)).

To meet or equal a § 12.00 listing for a mental disorder, a claimant must satisfy criteria under both Paragraph “A” and “B” of the particular listing. Paragraph A delineates the required medical diagnosis or clinical evidence of a mental impairment. Paragraph B criteria for each § 12.00 listing requires a showing of at least two functional limitations, such as (1) marked restriction of activities of daily living, (2) marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning, (3) marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, or, (4) repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P., App’x 1, §§ 12.04B, 12.06B, 12.08B & 12.10B. The Commissioner defines degrees of limitations under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a, 416.920a, rating limitations on a five point scale of “none, mild, moderate, marked, and extreme.” A “marked” limitation as required for Paragraph B “may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with your ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis.” 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P., App’x 1, § 12.00C.

The ALJ must clearly articulate the reasons for her decision regarding a listed impairment. Kiernan v. Astrue, 3:12CV459-HEH, 2013 WL 2323125, at *5 (E.D. Va. May 28, 2013). “[A] conclusory statement that a condition does not constitute the medical equivalent of a listed impairment is insufficient.” Id. (quoting Diaz v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 577 F.3d 500, 504 (3d Cir. 2009)). However, the fact “[t]hat the ALJ did not spell out every fathomable consideration is not reversible error.” Smith v. Astrue, 2:11-CV-32, 2012 WL 1435661, at *6 (N.D. W.Va. Apr. 24, 2012) (citing Bledsoe v. Barnhart, 165 Fed. App’x. 408, 411 (6th Cir. 2006)). A cursory explanation in step three is satisfactory so long as the decision as a whole demonstrates that the ALJ considered the relevant evidence of record and there is substantial evidence to support the conclusion. See Smith v. Astrue, 457 ...


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