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Thompson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

July 11, 2016


          Joseph E. Wolfe, Wolfe, Williams & Renolds, Norton, Virginia, for Plaintiff; Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region III, Quinn E. N. Doggett, Assistant Regional Counsel, and Theresa A. Casey, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Defendant.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         In this social security case, I affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.


         Plaintiff, Lisa Gail Thompson, filed this action challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1383f. Jurisdiction of this court exists under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         Thompson filed an application for DIB and SSI on June 3, 2011. The state agency that makes determinations for the Commissioner denied Thompson’s applications on November 1, 2011. Thompson protectively filed a second time for DIB and SSI on February 3, 2012. The applications were initially denied on May 7, 2012, and again on reconsideration on January 29, 2013. Thereafter, Thompson obtained a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on April 1, 2014. On May 1, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Thompson was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Thompson requested review by the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on August 10, 2015, thereby making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Thompson then filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision.

         The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment, and this case is now ripe for decision.


         In assessing disability claims, the ALJ applies a five-step sequential evaluation process. The Social Security Administration regulations set out the five-step process as: (1) whether the claimant has worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets the regulations’ severity and duration requirements; (3) whether the claimant has a condition that meets or equals the severity of a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant could return to her past work, given the medical impairments; and (5) if not, whether she could perform other work present in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4) (2013).

         During the first and second step, the claimant bears the burden of proving that she is under a disability, and if she fails to do so, she is determined not to be disabled. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). At the third step, the claimant can still establish her disability if she shows that her impairments match a listed impairment. Monroe v. Colvin, No. 15-1098, 2016 WL 3349355, at *2. (4th Cir. June 16, 2016) (citing Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634-35 (4th Cir. 2015)). If the claimant fails at steps one, two, and three, then at step four, the ALJ makes an assessment of the claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”).[1]The claimant still bears the burden of showing that her “physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that she is not only unable to do her previous work but cannot, considering her age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy . . . .” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the claimant can, in fact, engage in substantial, gainful work, which exists in the national economy.[2] See Monroe, 2016 WL 3349355, at *2.

         In accordance with the Act, I must uphold the Commissioner’s findings if substantial evidence supports them and the findings were reached through the application of the correct legal standard. Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance.” Laws v. Celebrezze, 368 F.2d 640, 642 (4th Cir. 1966). It is not the role of the court to substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990).

         I have carefully reviewed the evidence and conclude that the ALJ’s decision in this case is supported by substantial evidence and was reached through application of the correct legal standards.


         The plaintiff was 43 years old when she claimed disability on June 3, 2011. She has limited education and a work history as a factory worker and a cook. She last worked in May 2008. She claims disability based upon depression, panic attacks, right knee pain, and wrist problems. The medical records show that Thompson has long-standing reports of right knee and low back ...

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