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Carrico v. Colvin

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

March 16, 2016

IRENE S. CARRICO, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



Plaintiff Irene S. Carrico (“Carrico”) 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. Specifically, Carrico alleges that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by (1) failing to find that Carrico’s depression, anxiety, and otitis were severe impairments, (2) failing to perform a function-by-function analysis prior to assessing her RFC, (3) failing to account for her combination of impairments when formulating the RFC, and (4) improperly rejecting a medical source statement and GAF scores. Carrico also claims that the Appeals Council erred when it did not remand her claim after she submitted a medical source statement dated July 1, 2014.

This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This case is before me by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). The parties have fully briefed all issues and the case is now ripe for decision. I have carefully reviewed the administrative record, the legal memoranda, and the applicable law. I conclude that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s conclusions. As such, I GRANT the Commissioner’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. No. 17.


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 determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner’s conclusion that Carrico failed to demonstrate that she 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). If such substantial evidence exists, the final decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).

Carrico bears the burden of proving that she 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 her ability to perform daily activities or certain forms of work. Rather, a claimant must show that her impairments prevent her from engaging in all forms of substantial gainful employment given her age, education, and work experience. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2).

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; (4) can return to her past relevant work; and if not, (5) whether she 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, 460-462 (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 step five to establish that the claimant maintains the Residual Functioning Capacity (“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).


Carrico was born in July of 1962 (Administrative Record, hereinafter “R.” at 47), and is considered a “younger person” under the Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c). Carrico is insured through June 30, 2011(R. 226); therefore she must show that her disability began before the end of her insurance period, 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). Carrico completed the tenth grade in school and earned her GED. R. 48. She graduated from the Rouse School of Cosmetology in 1985, but she does not hold a current cosmetology license and does not remember the last time she worked in that field. Id. Carrico last worked in June of 2010 as a cashier at Big Horn Market. R. 49. She previously worked as a cashier at a country store, as a manager and server in a restaurant, and as a cashier in the service department of an automotive repair business. R. 50-51. Carrico reported that during the relevant period, she had the capacity to do light household chores with breaks, go outside every day, shop for groceries, pay bills, manage money, prepare simple meals, care for her cats, and lift ten pounds. R. 332-36.


Carrico filed for DIB on June 9, 2011, claiming that her disability began on October 29, 2010. R. 112. The state agency denied her application at the initial and reconsideration levels of administrative review. R. 97, 109. On July 2, 2013, ALJ Brian Rippel held a hearing to consider Carrico’s disability claim. R. 44-85. Carrico was represented by an attorney, Robert Golcheski, at the hearing, which included testimony from Carrico, her husband, and vocational expert (“VE”) Dr. David Burnhill. R. 44.[1]

On July 15, 2013, the ALJ entered his decision denying Carrico’s claims. R. 21. The ALJ found that Carrico suffered from the severe impairments of asthma, osteoarthritis, Meniere’s disease, [2] and spine impairments. R. 26. The ALJ found that these impairments, either individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. R. 28. The ALJ further found that Carrico retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and only occasional climbing of stairs or ramps, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. R. 28. The ALJ also found that Carrico should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and wetness, excessive vibration and pulmonary irritants, and avoid all exposure to workplace hazards, including unprotected heights and machinery. Id. The ALJ determined that Carrico could return to her past relevant work as a cashier (R. 34), and that Carrico could work at other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, namely, a ticket seller. R. 36. Thus, the ALJ concluded that she was not disabled. R. 36. On August 14, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Carrico’s request for review (R. 1), and this appeal followed.


Severe Impairments

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