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Harles-Wilson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 28, 2018

Joanne Harles-Wilson, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Mac Schneider, for Plaintiff.

          Gregory G. Booker, Assistant United States Attorney, for Defendant.

          ORDER

          FRANKLIN L. NOEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Joanne Harles-Wilson seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), who denied her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court has jurisdiction over the claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties have submitted cross-motions for summary judgment. See ECF Nos. 12 and 14. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED, and the case is REMANDED for further administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On December 28, 2011, Harles-Wilson filed concurrent applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Administrative Record [hereinafter “AR”] 242-45, ECF No. 10. Harles-Wilson alleges that she became disabled on September 4, 2014. Id. Harles-Wilson's applications were denied initially on September 24, 2012, and upon reconsideration on April 24, 2013. AR 242-81.

         On March 4, 2014, an administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) James Olson. AR 157-203. On March 26, 2014, Harles-Wilson requested a supplemental hearing. AR 673. The supplemental hearing was held on January 20, 2015, before ALJ Gilbert A. Martinez. AR 439. On February 17, 2015, ALJ Martinez denied Harles-Wilson's applications. See AR 8-44. On April 21, 2015, Harles-Wilson requested review of the ALJ's denial from the SSA Appeals Council. AR 57. Harles-Wilson submitted new medical records to the Appeals Council. See AR 58. On June 17, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Harles-Wilson's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision final for purposes of judicial review. AR 1-4; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         On August 16, 2016, Harles-Wilson commenced this civil action, seeking a determination that she was disabled as of her alleged onset date of September 4, 2010, and an award of disability benefits. ECF No. 1 at 2. On February 20, 2017, the SSA approved Harles-Wilson's reapplication for DIB, and found that Harles-Wilson became disabled on February 18, 2015. ECF No. 19 at 2. As a result, Harles-Wilson now asks the Court to enter an order awarding her DIB from her alleged onset date of September 4, 2010, through February 17, 2015. Id.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACTS

         A. Background

         Harles-Wilson was 41 years old when she filed her applications for DIB and SSI benefits. AR 471. Harles-Wilson graduated from college, and her past relevant work includes employment as a registered nurse. AR 526. Harles-Wilson claimed that the following severe impairments prevented her from securing and maintaining competitive employment: multiple autoimmune diseases, low back pain, thyroid disease (Hashimotos Disease), adrenal insufficiency (Addison's Disease), Salzmann's nodular degeneration, aortic aneurysm, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux, hormone problems, removal of cervix (scare tissue issues), weight gain (40 pounds from steroids), short-term memory problems, and hiatal hernia. See AR 525.

         B. The Administrative Hearing

         An administrative hearing was held on March 4, 2015. AR 11-44. Attorney Scott Haider represented Harles-Wilson, who testified on her own behalf. Id.

         1. Vocational Expert's Testimony

         Vocational expert (“VE”) Carly Coughlin testified at the hearing. AR 11. The VE stated that Harles-Wilson's only past work history was employment as a registered nurse. AR 148. The ALJ posed the following hypothetical to the VE:

assume we have an individual in the national work force that's age 41; has a high school diploma and a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1996. This individual has past relevant work as a registered nurse. This individual suffers from a combination of impairments. The mental impairments are affective disorder for depression and mood disorder; number two, anxiety-related disorder; number three, a personality disorder, NOS or with borderline features. Now, as far as the physical impairments we have fibromyalgia, obesity, autoimmune disorder, Salzmann's disease, Addison's disease, low back disorder, an artery disorder, gastrointestinal reflux disorder - GERD, sleep apnea. Also in the history, we have a history of alcohol [abuse]. At this time, we're going to find that the alcohol [abuse] is not material to the claim for disability. Okay. If you look at the physical and mental impairments, along with the signs and symptoms, you have the following physical residual functional capacity:
Under Hypothetical No. 1, this person could lift, carry, push, and pull 20 pounds on occasion. This person could lift, push, and pull 10 pounds frequently. Again, 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently. There is no requirement for a sit-stand option. This person could sit six total hours of an eight-hour work day. This person could stand six total hours of an eight-hour work day.
Other limitations: Overhead reaching, occasional for the right arm, occasional for the left arm. Reaching shoulder level or below, frequent for the right arm, frequent for the left arm. Handling, fingering, and feeling, frequent for the right arm, frequent for the left arm.
Postural limitation: Ability to climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, never, can't do it. Ability for walking up and down stairs, climbing stairs could be occasional. Ability for stooping and kneeling would be frequent. Ability for crouching and crawling would be ...

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