United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions
for summary judgment. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.
(“Pl.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 13; Def.'s Mot.
for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 16.)
For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that
Kimberly S.'s (hereafter “Ms. S.”) motion for
summary judgment be DENIED and the Commissioner's motion
for summary judgment be GRANTED.
Factual Background and ALJ Decision
first filed for supplemental security income on December 2,
2014, alleging disability beginning on June 1, 2011. (R. 65.)
Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R.
89, 97.) She timely requested a hearing before Administrative
Law Judge Roger Thomas, which was held on November 29, 2016.
(R. 31.) On December 16, 2016, ALJ Thomas issued an
ALJ Thomas's Decision
Thomas followed the five-step sequential evaluation process
for determining whether Ms. S. is disabled. At Step One, ALJ
Thomas determined that Ms. S. had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her claimed date of disability. (R.
17.) He noted that while she had worked since her alleged
onset date, it did not rise to the level of substantial
gainful activity. (Id.)
Two, ALJ Thomas determined that Ms. S. had two severe
impairments: asthma and systemic lupus erythematosus
(“SLE”). (R. 17.) He also evaluated Ms. S.'s
other medically determinable mental impairments, major
depression and ADHD, but found that they were both nonsevere.
(R. 18.) In making this determination, he considered the four
functional areas set out in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1, often referred to as the “paragraph
B” criteria. These four areas are activities of daily
living; social functioning; concentration, persistence, or
pace; and episodes of decompensation.
Thomas determined that Ms. S. has only mild limitations in
activities of daily living in light of her capacity for
taking care of herself and a household, despite reporting a
lack of energy for doing so. (R. 19.) Ms. S. reported being
able to cook and clean, dividing household chores with her
boyfriend. (R. 210-211, 229-230.) She cares for two cats,
including feeding, bathing, trimming claws, and cleaning
their litter box. (R. 210, 229.) She also shops in stores one
or two times a week. (R. 212.) ALJ Thomas also found that Ms.
S. has only mild limitations in the area of social
functioning. (R. 19.) She lives with her boyfriend, and
regularly chats online with and visits her best friend. (R.
213.) Similarly, ALJ Thomas found that Ms. S. has mild
limitations in the area of concentration, persistence, or
pace. (R. 19.) He found that although she needs reminders for
appointments and medication and has a somewhat limited
attention span, she is capable of working as a freelancer, as
well as using a computer and cell phone to help her organize.
(R. 19.) In the fourth area, the ALJ noted that Ms. S. has
not experienced any episodes of decompensation of an extended
duration. (R. 19.) Because she did not have two or more
marked limitations, or one marked limitation and an episode
of decompensation of an extended duration, ALJ Thomas
concluded that Ms. S.'s mental impairments were
non-severe. (R. 19-20; see also 20 C.F.R. §
Three, ALJ Thomas found that none of Ms. S.'s
impairments, separately or in combination, met or equaled the
severity of any listed impairments. He considered Listing
3.03, asthma, but found that Ms. S.'s symptoms did not
meet the criteria. (R. 20.) Similarly, he considered listing
14.02 for SLE, but again found that the criteria for the
listing was not met by Ms. S.'s symptoms. (Id.)
Four, ALJ Thomas determined that Ms. S. has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
with additional restrictions. Specifically, he limited Ms. S.
to standing or walking for only two hours per eight-hour work
day; a sit/stand option after 20 minutes of weight bearing;
no exposure to temperatures above 90 degrees or below 32
degrees Fahrenheit; and no exposure to wetness, humidity,
dusts, fumes, gases, and hazards such as unprotected heights
and dangerous machinery. (R. 20.) He then determined that Ms.
S. could perform her past relevant work as a sales clerk or
office clerk. (R. 23.) Instead of halting his inquiry there,
ALJ Thomas proceeded to Step Five in order to make an
Five, ALJ Thomas found in the alternative that there were
sufficient jobs in the national economy that she is able to
perform. In making this determination, he found that
transferability of job skills was not material to the
disability determination, and therefore did not engage in a
transferability analysis. (R. 23-24.) Having determined that
Ms. S. was capable of working, ALJ Thomas found that she was
this unfavorable determination, Ms. S. sought review by the
Appeals council, which denied her request. (R. 1-6.) Thus,
the ALJ's decision became the final determination of the
Commissioner, making Ms. S.'s case ripe review by this
Ms. S.'s Employment History
particular relevance in this case is Ms. S.'s employment
history. During college, she worked at her university as a
student worker. (R. 193.) This job entailed a variety of
office tasks, such as making deliveries, filing,
transcription, making copies, and answering phones. (R. 202,
204.) She was also permitted to study during her work hours.
(R. 202, 204.) As a student worker, Ms. S. only worked 3-4
hours per day, 3 days a week. (R. 202, 204.)
leaving school, Ms. S. began work as a part-time manager at a
comic book store. She performed a variety of tasks in this
role, including cashiering, restocking, cleaning, organizing
comics, assisting customers, taking calls, and supervising
two other employees. (R. 203.) Though her supervisor made
accommodations for her physical limitations, Ms. S.
eventually quit the job because it was too physically and
mentally demanding. (R. 44-45.) Ms. S. is not currently
employed, but earns a small income ($60-$80 per month) as a
freelance artist. (R. 36- 37.)