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Koskinas v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 7, 2017



          Craig B. Shaffer United States Magistrate Judge.

         Magistrate Judge Craig B. Shaffer This action comes before the court pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83(c) for review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying James Henry Koskinas's (“Plaintiff”) application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). On September 21, 2016, the parties consented to the magistrate judge's jurisdiction to “conduct any and all further proceedings in this case, including the trial, and [to] order the entry of final judgment.” Doc. 15. Accordingly, the case was referred to this court on November 23, 2016. Doc. 19. The court has carefully considered the Complaint (filed July 14, 2016) (Doc. 1), Plaintiff's Opening Brief (filed October 22, 2016) (Doc. 16), Defendant's Response Brief (filed November 10, 2016) (Doc. 17), Plaintiff's Reply (filed November 22, 2016) (Doc. 18), the entire case file, the administrative record, and the applicable law. For the following reasons, the court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


         In April 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging a disability onset date of June 6, 2010. (See Social Security Administrative Record (hereinafter “AR”) at 107, 274-79). Plaintiff alleged that his ability to work was limited by chronic back pain, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, diabetes, blindness in his left eye, and severe joint pain. See Id. at 296. Plaintiff was born on September 2, 1964, and was 48 years old on the date of his alleged disability onset. Id. at 114, 293. He received his GED and completed some college course work, and has worked in a variety of jobs including as a cashier and a small business owner. Id. at 130-32, 297. After his initial application was denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on September 4, 2014, before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). See Id. at 121-77, 222-25.

         Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing and testified that his mental disabilities limited his ability to interact with people. Id. at 142. He also testified that he did not have any strength in his left knee, and that his left leg functioned “like a crutch instead of a leg.” Id. at 144. He stated that his back pain would prevent him from sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time. Id. at 146-47. He testified that he could not stoop to pick anything up, could not twist, could not bend at the waist, and did not have the strength to push or pull anything. Id. at 151-52. He also estimated that he could, at most, carry a gallon of milk in each hand for a distance of twenty feet. However, Plaintiff also testified that he (1) tried to do 20 to 40 minutes of yoga per day; (2) went grocery shopping three times per month; (3) cared for his dog; (4) mowed his lawn; (5) cooked for himself; (6) did his own laundry; and (7) drove a manual transmission car. Id. at 134-41.

         A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. Id. at 156-76. The VE testified that Plaintiff's prior work experience was classified as ranging from “light” to “medium” by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles exertional guidelines. Id. at 157-58. The ALJ asked the VE to assume hypothetically that an individual of Plaintiff's age - with the same education and vocational background as Plaintiff - had the following limitations: (1) lift 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently; (2) standing and walking up to six hours, and sitting up to two hours; (3) never operate foot controls on the left side; (4) never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (5) never crawl; (6) occasional crouching, kneeling, and stooping; (7) occasional climbing of stairs and ramps; (8) avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold; (9) avoid all exposure to unprotected heights and hazardous machinery; and (10) occasional limitation in depth perception due to extreme limitations in vision in the left eye. Id. at 159-60. The VE testified that an individual with those limitations could not perform the work involved in Plaintiff's previous jobs as he had performed them. Id. at 161. The VE did testify, however, that Plaintiff would be able to perform work as a small business owner as that work was normally performed. Id.

         The ALJ then asked the VE to assume that the previous individual could only stand for 30-minute intervals before needing to sit, and could only sit for two hours before needing to change positions. Id. at 162. The VE testified that the small business owner occupation would still be viable under those additional limitations. Id. The VE also testified that someone with those limitations could work as an “order filler, ” which is classified as a “light” exertional job with 880, 000 positions available nationally. Id. at 164. The VE testified that her opinion was based on both the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and her own professional experience. Id. at 165.

         The ALJ then posited an individual who - in addition to the limitations of the second hypothetical - would also be limited to “no long-term interaction with the public and no working as a member of a close team with fellow employees.” Id. at 166. Based on those limitations, the VE concluded that all past work, and the position of order filler, would be precluded. Id. The VE did identify two other “unskilled” jobs that would allow for brief interactions and a sit/stand option: (1) laundry worker (430, 000 National); and (2) mailroom clerk (102, 000 National). Id. at 171.

         The ALJ then asked the VE to assume an individual who was limited to sedentary exertional levels and who would need to stand and stretch or change positions at 30-minute intervals. Id. at 168. The VE identified two sedentary positions that would satisfy those limitations: (1) data entry operator (530, 000 National); and (2) purchasing clerk (70, 000 National). Id. at 170.

         Plaintiff's counsel then asked whether any employment would be compatible with an individual who engaged in disruptive behavior. Id. at 172. The VE testified that there would not be any tolerance for such behavior. Id. In response to further questioning, the VE also testified that employers were likely to tolerate between 5 to 10 percent off-task behavior, but also stated that chronic accuracy issues would not be tolerated. Id. at 174.

         On October 16, 2014, the ALJ issued her decision denying benefits. Id. at 104-120. The ALJ's opinion followed the five-step process outlined in the Social Security regulations.[1] At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since April 15, 2013. Id. at 109. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: left eye blindness (status post glaucoma), lumbar spine degenerative disc disease, left leg osteoarthritis, and pelvis/left hip osteoarthritis. Id. She further concluded that although Plaintiff had been diagnosed with anxiety/post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse disorder, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that these impairments imposed more than a minimal limitation on Plaintiff's ability to perform basic mental work-related activities. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Id. at 111.

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

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a wide range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant is limited to lifting-carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; is limited to standing-walking six hours and sitting two hours in an eight-hour workday; can never use foot controls with the left foot; can never crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; is limited to occasionally crouching, kneeling, stooping, and climbing ramps and stairs; must avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold, and all exposure to heights and hazardous or ...

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