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Garcia v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 13, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff s Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 12) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 14.) Han Luu Thi Garcia ("plaintiff" or "claimant") seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("defendant") denying plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B), the undersigned Magistrate Judge makes the following recommendation.

         I. Introduction

         A. Background

         Plaintiff filed her application for disability insurance benefits on June 7, 2012, alleging disability as of July 1, 2007. (Administrative Record[1] ("R.") 8, 244-45.) Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on October 16, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on May 3, 2013. (Id. at 8, 97-128.) On September 18, 2015, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Id. at 8, 34-35.)

         ALJ Michael A. Krasnow held a hearing on August 10, 2015, during which he received testimony from plaintiff, represented by counsel, and Tony Malancin, an impartial vocational expert. (Id. at 8, 59-83.) On September 10, 2015, the ALJ issued his decision, finding that plaintiff was not disabled under Sections Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012, the last date plaintiff was insured. (Id. at 8, 38-58.) The Appeals Council for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review ("Appeals Council") denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on March 17, 2016. (Id. at 8, 1-4.) Having exhausted her administrative remedies, plaintiff filed a Complaint for judicial review on May 18, 2016. (Dkt. 1.) Defendant answered on August 1, 2016. (Dkt. 5.) The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkts. 12, 14), and the matter is now ripe for adjudication.


         Under the Social Security Act, the Court's review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the correct legal standard was applied. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. Hays, 907 F.2d at 1456. While the standard is high, where the ALJ's determination is not supported by substantial evidence on the record, or where the ALJ has made an error of law, the district court must reverse the decision. See Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Stroup v. Apfel, No. 96-1722, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 2750, at *12-13 (4th Cir. Feb. 24, 2000).

         In reviewing for substantial evidence, the Court must examine the record as a whole, but it may not "undertake to re-weigh conflicting evidence, make credibility determinations, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Secretary." Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996)). The correct law to be applied includes the Act, its implementing regulations, and controlling case law. See Coffman, 829 F.2d at 517-18. With this standard in mind, the Court next evaluates the ALJ's findings and decision.


         The ALJ is required to employ a five-step sequential evaluation in every Social Security disability claim analysis to determine the claimant's eligibility. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. As noted above, the Court examines this five-step process on appeal to determine whether the correct legal standards were applied, and whether the resulting decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record. In accordance with the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ in this case made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         First, plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of July 11, 2007, through her date last insured ("DLI") of December 31, 2012. (R. at 43.) Second, through the DLI, plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and affective mood disorder. (Id.) Third, plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, through her DLI. (Id. at 4 4.) Fourth, through her DLI, plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except that plaintiff could frequently perform handling and fingering bilaterally, with the limitation that plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration and hazards, including dangerous machinery, unprotected heights, and moving parts, and with the additional limitation to simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no production rate for pace of work. (Id. at 4 6.) As such, plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a waitress. (Id. at 52.) Fifth, considering plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience, plaintiff could perform past relevant work, as this work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the plaintiff's RFC. (Id.) Therefore, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from July 1, 2007, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2012, the date plaintiff was last insured. (Id. at 53.)


         Plaintiff was 62 years old on December 31, 2012, her DLL (R. 62-64.) Plaintiff was born in Vietnam and has a 10th grade education (Id. at 284.) Plaintiff worked previously as an aid to handicapped persons and as a waitress. (Id. at 67-68.) Plaintiff alleged disability since July 2007 due to sleeping problems, dizziness, depression, leg spasms, hand and wrist pain, headaches, memory issues and forgetfulness. (Id. at 97.)

         A. Testimony at the Hearing before the ALJ

         At the hearing before the ALJ on August 10, 2015, plaintiff testified that she stopped working because the pain in her hands did not allow her to lift any heavy objects while working as a waitress. (Id. at 67-68.) Plaintiff testified to having pain in both hands, particularly her dominant left hand. (Id. at 73.) Plaintiff further stated that she had difficulties sleeping due to the pain in her hand, therefore she takes Ambien. (Id. at 74.) In addition, plaintiff stated she takes the medications Celebrex, Fexofenadine, Meloxicam, and Voltaren for the pain in her hand. (Id. at 75.) ...

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