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Torres v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 30, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          David F. Chermol, CHERMOL & FISHMAN, LLC, and Edward C. Olson, DISABILITY ATTORNEYS OF MINNESOTA, for plaintiff.

          Gregory G. Brooker, Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for defendant.


          JOHN R. TUNHEIM Chief Judge

         Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”), [1]denied Plaintiff Antoinette Torres' application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental social security income under the Social Security Act (“SSA”). Torres exhausted the administrative appeals process within the Social Security Administration (“the Agency”) and the case is now before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment. In a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) filed on January 24, 2017, United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung recommended denying Torres' motion and granting the Commissioner's motion. Torres objected to the R&R, arguing that the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) findings and reliance on a vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony were inconsistent with the conclusion that Torres could perform light work. Because the Court finds Torres' limitation to stand or walk for two hours is consistent with the controlling regulatory definition of light work, the Court will overrule Torres' objections and adopt the R&R.


         Torres filed an application for disability insurance benefits in August 2012, (Administrative R. (“Admin. R.”) at 191-95, Mar. 21, 2016, Docket No. 14), [3] and an application for supplemental social security income in September 2012, (id. at 196-202). In both applications, Torres asserted a disability onset date of July 19, 2012. (id. at 191, 196.) Torres stated she suffered from the following impairments: lupus, connective tissue disease, high blood pressure, autoimmune hepatitis, and arthritis. (Id. at 238.) The SSA denied Torres' application on November 27, 2012, (id. at 79, 90, 118), and affirmed upon reconsideration, (id. at 103, 115, 129). Torres requested a hearing before an ALJ (id. at 135-36), and, on March 26, 2014, the ALJ denied Torres' claim for benefits, (id. at 23-40).

         The ALJ found Torres is not disabled because Torres “has the residual functional capacity [“RFC”] to perform less than the full range of light work, ” in that she is:

[L]imited to lifting 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. [Torres] is limited to standing and/or walking up to 2 hours out of an 8hour day and sitting for 6 hours out of an 8-hour day. [Torres] . . . require[s] the ability to alternate between sitting for 30 minutes and then standing for 5 minutes before resuming a seated position. [Torres] should never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. [Torres] can never climb stairs or use the left lower extremity to operate foot controls. [Torres] can occasionally climb ramps and occasionally balance, stoop or crouch. [Torres] can never kneel, crawl or reach overhead. [Torres] can frequently handle and finger. [Torres] should avoid working in an environment where she is exposed to temperature extremes or direct sunlight.

(Id. at 29 (emphasis added).)[4] The ALJ, relying on testimony from the VE, determined “jobs exist in the national and regional economy for an individual with [Torres'] age, education, work experience, and [RFC].” (Id. at 34.) Specifically, the VE testified that light work jobs - such as “Small Parts Assembler” and “Hand Packager” - existed for such an individual. (Id.) The ALJ found the VE's testimony consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and, therefore, found Torres was not disabled under the SSA. (Id. at 34-35.)

         The Appeals Council subsequently denied Torres' request for review (id. at 6-11), and on December 17, 2105, Torres filed a Complaint seeking the Court's appellate review. Torres and the Commissioner, thereafter, filed cross motions for summary judgment, and the Court referred the matter to the Magistrate Judge. The Magistrate Judge found substantial evidence in the record supported the ALJ's conclusion that Torres is not disabled within the meaning of the SSA, and, therefore, recommended granting the Commissioner's motion and denying Torres' motion. (R&R at 31-32, Jan. 24, 2017, Docket No. 24.)

         Torres timely filed objections to the R&R, asserting the ALJ made two errors: (1) finding that Torres could walk or stand for two hours in a workday in contradiction of the ALJ's determination that Torres can perform light work; and (2) relying on the VE's conclusion that Torres could perform certain occupations with the reduced range of light work, because the VE's testimony allegedly conflicts with the controlling regulatory definition of light work.



         After a magistrate judge files an R&R, a party may file “specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(1). “The objections should specify the portions of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which objections are made and provide a basis for those objections.” Montgomery v. Compass Airlines, LLC, 98 F.Supp.3d 1012, 1017 (D. Minn. 2015) (quoting Mayer v. Walvatne, No. 07-1958, 2008 WL 4527774, at *2 (D. Minn. Sept. 28, 2008)). On a dispositive ...

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