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DeHerrera v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 11, 2016

ANGELICA M. DEHERRERA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Craig B. Shaffer United States Magistrate Judge

This action comes before the court pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33 and 1381-83(c), for review of the Commissioner of Social Security’s final decision denying Angelica M. DeHerrera’s (“Plaintiff”) application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Pursuant to the Order of Reference dated December 2, 2014, this civil action was referred to the Magistrate Judge “for all purposes” pursuant to D.C.Colo.LCivR 72.2 and Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (See Doc. 18). The court has carefully considered the Complaint (filed February 13, 2014) (Doc. 1), Defendant’s Answer (filed July 28, 2014) (Doc. 9), Plaintiff’s Opening Brief (filed October 13, 2014) (Doc. 13), Defendant’s Response Brief (filed November 10, 2014) (Doc. 14), the entire case file, the administrative record, and the applicable law. For the following reasons, the court affirms the Commissioner’s decision.

BACKGROUND

In February 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits, alleging a disability onset date of June 14, 2010. (See Social Security Administrative Record (hereinafter “AR”) at 227-28, 229-36). Plaintiff alleged that her ability to work was limited by a disk herniation at L5-S1, nerve damage in her left leg, and anxiety. See Id. at 272. Plaintiff was born on July 14, 1987, and was 22 years old on the date of her alleged disability onset. Id. at 139, 147. She completed the 12th grade and has previous work experience as a part-time caregiver. Id. at 147-48. After her initial application was denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on August 21, 2012, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). See Id. at 142-68, 200.

Plaintiff represented herself at the hearing[1] and testified that she suffered from debilitating back pain, pain in her leg, and anxiety. Id. at 148. She stated that she had previously worked as a part-time personal caregiver, but she had to stop because of the medications that she was taking. Id. at 147-48. When asked how much weight she could lift, Plaintiff stated that she didn’t lift anything over ten pounds. Id. at 148. She also testified that she could sit for thirty to forty-five minutes per day, and that she walked a quarter mile per day. Id. She stated that although she tried to spend time with her two children - reading books and doing puzzles - her husband was primarily responsible for their care. Id. at 149-51. Plaintiff testified that she could do some dishes and cooking, and that she could also do some of the grocery shopping; however, Plaintiff said that her mother had to wash the family’s laundry. Id. at 156-57.

Plaintiff’s father-in-law also testified at the hearing regarding Plaintiff’s condition. He stated that because of her alleged disability, Plaintiff could not work, had trouble taking care of the children, and could not keep her house clean. Id. at 158. He further stated that when he visited, Plaintiff was usually sleeping. Id. He did testify, however, that Plaintiff did most of the cooking for the family. Id. at 160.

A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. Id. at 161-65. The ALJ asked the VE to assume hypothetically that an individual of Plaintiff’s age - with the same education and past work experience as Plaintiff - had the following limitations: (1) only lift or carry up to 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; (2) stand or walk with normal breaks for a total of six hours in an eight hour work day; (3) sit with normal breaks for a total of six hours in an eight hour work day; (4) perform pushing and pulling motions with upper and lower extremities within the weight restriction; (5) avoid unprotected heights and moving machinery; (6) perform postural activities - climbing of ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling, and crawling - only occasionally; and (7) avoid climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The ALJ also noted that the job should be of limited complexity, with a Specific Vocational Preparation (“SVP”)[2] of 3 or less. Id. at 162-63.

Based on these limitations, the VE identified three “light” exertional jobs, which someone with those limitations could perform and testified about the number of each position in the regional and national economy: (1) retail marker, SVP: 2 (5, 050 Colorado; 313, 723 National); (2) order filler, SVP: 3 (2, 293 Colorado; 142, 431 National); and (3) silverware wrapper, SVP: 1 (1, 867 Colorado; 107, 450 National). Id. at 163-64.

The ALJ then posed a second hypothetical in which she asked the VE to assume that this same individual would be restricted in these additional ways: (1) could lift or carry less than ten pounds frequently and up to ten pound occasionally; and (2) stand or walk with normal breaks for a total of two hours in an eight hour work day. Id. at 164. The VE testified that a person under these restrictions could function as a telemarketer, SVP: 3 (4, 439 Colorado; 177, 337 National); an appointment clerk, SVP: 3 (2, 354 Colorado; 121, 745 National); and a clerical sorter, SVP: 3 (457 Colorado; 53, 570 National). Id. at 164-65.

In the third hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume that due to the combination of impairments and due to pain, the individual would be unable to sustain the concentration, persistence, and pace necessary to consistently fulfill a 40 hour work week. The VE was asked to further assume that the individual would miss more than four days of work in a month. Id. at 165. The VE testified that there would be no employment for such an individual. Id.

On September 27, 2012, the ALJ issued her decision denying benefits. Id. at 20-36. The ALJ’s opinion followed the five-step process outlined in the Social Security regulations.[3] At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since June 14, 2010. Id. at 133. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1) disk herniation; (2) adjustment disorder; (3) generalized anxiety disorder; (4) headaches; and (5) chronic pain syndrome. Id. The ALJ further concluded that despite being seen on several occasions for abdominal pain, there were no diagnoses or objective medical evidence for Plaintiff’s symptoms; therefore, Plaintiff’s abdominal pain did not constitute an impairment. Id. at 134. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Id.

The ALJ then assessed the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except the claimant is limited to work of limited complexity that has an svp of 3 or less with minimal to no direct contact with the public; can lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; can stand and/or walk with normal breaks for 6 out of 8 hours; sit with normal breaks for 6 out of 8 hours; can perform pushing and pulling with the upper and lower extremities within the aforementioned weight limitations; should avoid ...

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