United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
CHRISTINA M. CARDINALE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Honorable Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge.
has filed this action challenging the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiffs claim for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
under the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i) and 423. Jurisdiction of this court is
pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). As reflected by the memoranda and argument submitted
by the parties, the issues now before the court are whether
the Commissioner's final decision is supported by
substantial evidence, or whether there is "good
cause" as to necessitate remanding the case to the
Commissioner for further consideration. See 42 U.S.C. §
plaintiff, Christina M. Cardinale, was born on February 6,
1954, and eventually completed her high school education.
Mrs. Cardinale has also completed a course of study in data
processing. Plaintiff has worked as a bookkeeper, auditor,
cashier, and administrative assistant. She last worked on a
regular basis in 2012. On December 20, 2012, Mrs. Cardinale
filed an application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits. She alleged that she became
disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment on
November 30, 2012 because of bulging discs in her back and
high blood pressure. Plaintiff now maintains that she has
remained disabled to the present time. The record reveals
that Mrs. Cardinale met the insured status requirements of
the Act at all relevant times covered by the final decision
of the Commissioner. See gen., 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i) and 423(a).
Cardinale's claim for disability insurance benefits was
denied upon initial consideration and reconsideration. She
then requested and received a de novo hearing and
review before an Administrative Law Judge. In an opinion
dated September 15, 2015, the Law Judge also determined that
plaintiff was not disabled. The Law Judge found that Mrs.
Cardinale suffered from several severe impairments, including
spondylosis of the lumbar spine with L5-S1 rupture;
degenerative joint disease; tendonitis with a partial tear in
her right shoulder; and obesity. Despite this combination of
impairments, the Law Judge ruled that Mrs. Cardinale retained
sufficient functional capacity to perform sedentary work such
as was required in her prior job as an administrative
assistant. Accordingly, the Law Judge ultimately concluded
that plaintiff was not disabled, and that she is not entitled
to a period of disability or disability insurance benefits.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). Upon receipt of the Law
Judge's adverse decision, plaintiff sought review by the
Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. In
conjunction with her request for review, Mrs. Cardinale
submitted a number of new medical reports. However, the
Appeals Council eventually adopted the Law Judge's
opinion as the final decision of the Commissioner. Having
exhausted all available administrative remedies, Mrs.
Cardinale has now appealed to this court.
plaintiff may be disabled for certain forms of employment,
the crucial factual determination is whether plaintiff was
disabled for all forms of substantial gainful employment. See
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2). There are four elements of proof
which must be considered in making such an analysis. These
elements are summarized as follows: (1) objective medical
facts and clinical findings; (2) the opinions and conclusions
of treating physicians; (3) subjective evidence of physical
manifestations of impairments, as described through a
claimant's testimony; and (4) the claimant's
education, vocational history, residual skills, and age.
Vitek v. Finch, 438 F.2d 1157, 1159-60 (4th Cir.
1971); Underwood v. Ribicoff. 298 F.2d 850, 851 (4th
appeal, plaintiff makes two, somewhat related arguments. Mrs.
Cardinale maintains that the Administrative Law Judge failed
to properly develop the record in her case. However, the
court believes that the Law Judge conducted a thorough and
complete evaluation and review of all the evidence in the
administrative record presented to the Law Judge for
consideration. Plaintiff argues that the Law Judge failed to
address questions raised by plaintiff s testimony and to
procure additional evidence, given certain ambiguities in the
record. However, the court is simply unable to identify any
significant deficiencies in the Law Judge's consideration
of the case. It must be remembered that the burden of proof,
and the responsibility to produce appropriate evidence, rests
with the claimant. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512. While it is
true that the Administrative Law Judge recognized that the
record set forth little evidence concerning plaintiffs
emotional problems in context with her physical complaints,
the court concludes that any shortcomings in the evidence
should have been addressed by Mrs. Cardinale.
other hand, the court believes that plaintiffs second
argument on appeal, which in some ways is an extension of the
first, does have merit. As noted above, in requesting review
of the Administrative Law Judge's opinion by the Social
Security Administration's Appeals Council, plaintiff,
through her legal representatives, submitted additional
medical evidence. The court believes that the new evidence
submitted by plaintiff was such as to address certain
deficiencies in the medical record as identified by the
Administrative Law Judge. Nevertheless, in adopting the Law
Judge's opinion as the final decision of the
Commissioner, the Appeals Council limited its consideration
of the new medical evidence to the following statement:
We considered whether the Administrative Law Judge's
action, findings, or conclusion is contrary to the weight of
the evidence currently of record. We concluded that the
additional evidence does not provide a basis for changing the
Administrative Law Judge's decision.
The court is simply unable to conclude whether the
Commissioner's treatment of the new evidence is supported
by substantial evidence.
testimony at the administrative hearing, Mrs. Cardinale
related that, because of her physical problems and inability
to work, she suffers from depression and post-traumatic
stress. (TR 56). She testified that she has received
treatment, including mediation, from mental health
specialists for her emotional problems. (TR 56, 62). The
Administrative Law Judge addressed this issue as follows:
The claimant testified to having nightmares sometimes, she
reported having PTSD that was diagnosed in 2007 to 2008, and
she alleged treatment of therapy. In her December 2014
summary that the claimant submitted, she wrote that she had
attended counseling sessions and had been treated by her
family physician for PTSD and anxiety. She further noted
taking such medications as bupropion (Ex. 15F/5-7). However,
the medical evidence does not indicate that the claimant was
ever diagnosed with or treated for a mental disorder by an
acceptable medical source. In addition, she typically had
normal mental signs on exam throughout the relevant period.
Therefore, I find that the claimant's alleged
PSTD/anxiety disorder is a non-medically determinable
court believes that the new evidence submitted to the Appeals
Council substantiates plaintiffs testimony regarding her
emotional symptomatology. The new reports relate to periods
of treatment, both before and after the date of the
Administrative Law Judge's opinion. For example, in a
letter from a licensed professional counselor dated December
21, 2015, the course of plaintiff s treatment is summarized
This letter is to confirm that Christina Cardinale started
receiving individual counseling services at The Women's
Initiative from June 12, 2014 to December 2, 2014 completing
22 sessions, Then she returned for services on August 10/2015
receiving as of today 16 counseling sessions in this second
round of treatment. In ...