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Erin F. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 26, 2019

Erin F., Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          HILDY BOWBEER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE [1]

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Erin F. seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). The case is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment [Doc. Nos. 14, 17]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grants the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on November 26, 2014, alleging she was not able to work as of October 27, 2014, because of a schizoaffective disorder and ankylosing spondylitis. (R. 64.)[2] The alleged onset of disability date was later modified to December 15, 2010. (R. 37.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The hearing was convened on October 14, 2016. (R. 32-62.) Plaintiff and vocational expert Edward Utities testified.

         Plaintiff testified that she and her spouse lived in a house they rented from her parents. (R. 38.) Plaintiff drove a couple times a week to medical appointments, the grocery store, and the movie theater. (R. 39.) She had attended college and earned bachelor's degrees in criminology and psychology in 2011. (R. 39.) Plaintiff last worked as a teaching assistant for one of her college professors. (R. 40.)

         Plaintiff testified she was not able to work because she found going to work every day difficult. (R. 41.) She quit a telemarketing job because she could not tolerate customers yelling at her on the phone or her supervisors' criticism. (R. 41.) She also had trouble concentrating, handling the stress of deadlines, and being around people in general. (R. 42-43.)

         Plaintiff further testified that she took Haldol 50% of the time for hallucinations. (R. 43.) The severity of her hallucinations ranged from hearing her own thoughts out loud to hearing someone being raped. (R. 56.) Plaintiff took Haldol when her hallucinations were severe enough to scare or mentally disturb her. (R. 57.) She also took Adderall for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”), which helped her focus. (R. 43.) Her medications were not 100% effective, but they were helpful. (R. 44.) Side effects included sleepiness and appetite suppression. (R. 44.) Plaintiff also experienced tics from Tourette's Syndrome. (R. 57.)

         During a typical day, Plaintiff testified, she fed and cared for her puppy, watched television, read, washed dishes, did the laundry, wrote on her blog and third-party websites, and slept eight to nine hours a night. (R. 44-45.) She occasionally went on walks, went to a movie theater, shopped for groceries, bathed, prepared food, dressed, washed dishes, and played the violin, guitar, piano, and drums. (R. 46-47, 51.) About once a month, Plaintiff drove her wife from Brainerd to Duluth to visit family. (R. 50.)

         After Plaintiff testified, the ALJ asked Mr. Utities to consider a hypothetical individual with no past relevant work, able to occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds, frequently lift and/or carry 10 pounds, stand or walk for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, sit for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, occasionally climb, occasionally balance, occasionally stoop, occasionally kneel, occasionally crouch, and occasionally crawl. (R. 59-60.) In addition, the individual could understand, remember, and carry out simple tasks, and would be limited to simple work-related decisions. (R. 60.) The individual could also interact occasionally with coworkers and supervisors, and briefly and superficially interact with the public. (R. 60.) Mr. Utities testified that such an individual could work as a small products assembler, sub-assembler, or electrical accessories assembler, all of which were light, unskilled, simple, routine benchwork assembly jobs with no contact with the public and only brief and superficial contact with others. (R. 60.)

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 21, 2016. (R. 12-26.) Pursuant to the five-step sequential evaluation procedure outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4), the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 26, 2014. (R. 17.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, schizoaffective disorder; and ADHD. (R. 17.) The ALJ found at the third step, however, that no impairment or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. (R. 17.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[3]

to perform less than the full range of light work . . . except: the claimant is limited to lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. The claimant is limited to sitting (with normal breaks[] for about 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. The claimant is limited to standing or walking (with normal breaks) for about 6 hours out of an 8-hour-workday. The claimant is limited to occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, and climbing. Mentally, the claimant is limited to understanding, remembering and carrying out simple tasks. The claimant is limited to making simple work-related decisions. The claimant is limited to tolerating the changes in a simple work setting. The claimant is limited to occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors with occasional brief and superficial contact with the public.

(R. 19.) Plaintiff had no past relevant work experience, so the ALJ proceeded to step five to consider whether there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. (R. 25.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff could work as a small products assembler, sub assembler, or electrical accessories assembler. (R. 25-26.) Therefore, Plaintiff was not disabled.

         Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council, which denied the request. (R. 1.) The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1.) Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review. She contends the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Steven Grandt, M.D., considering the effect of her pain on her mental impairments, evaluating the medical evidence in general, and weighing the opinions of non-examining state agency consultants.

         The Court has reviewed the entire administrative record, giving particular attention to the facts and records cited by the parties. The Court will recount the facts of record only to the extent they are helpful for context or necessary for resolution of the specific issues presented in the parties' motions.

         II. ...


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