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Milton v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 30, 2018

JACQUELYN MILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, [1] Defendants.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge.

         This Social Security benefits appeal is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). Plaintiff Jacquelyn Milton (“Milton” or “claimant”), proceeding pro se, challenges the final decision of the Social Security Administration (“Administration”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The denial was affirmed by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who found that Plaintiff was “not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.” (Admin. Record (“R”) (ECF No. 11) at 22.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Social Security Administration for purposes of judicial review. This appeal followed.

         For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's denial of benefits is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Milton was born in 1964, and was 45 years old on the alleged disability onset date. (R. at 20.) She had previously worked as a home health aide and a cashier. (Id.)

         On September 24, 2013, Milton sought disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 25 at 2.) Milton alleged disability beginning July 15, 2010 due to multiple impairments, including: memory loss, knee problems, back problems, right shoulder slipping out of its socket, incontinence, and elbow surgeries. (Id.; ECF No. 24 at 2.) Milton's application was initially denied on March 17, 2014 and she requested a hearing which was held on June 1, 2015 before ALJ Patricia E. Hartman. (R. at 10.) At the hearing, Milton was represented by attorney Linda S. Kreusel, but her main representative at the time was Evelyn L. Rosenthal, a non-attorney representative. (Id.) Plaintiff is no longer represented by either Ms. Kreusel or Ms. Rosenthal and appears pro se in this appeal before the Court. (ECF No. 24 at 1.) On August 25, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in accordance with the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process.[2]

         At step one, the ALJ found that Milton had met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016 and that Milton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March1, 2010, the alleged onset date of her disability. (R. at 12.) The ALJ noted that although Milton had worked as a caregiver for her mother since July 2011, earning $9.00 per hour and working 8.5 hours a week, this work does not qualify as “substantial gainful activity.” (Id.)

         At step two, the ALJ found that Milton suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease/ patella maltracking of the bilateral knees post arthroscopy, degenerative changes to the left tibial plateau, lumbar degenerative disc disease with sciatica, and obesity. (Id.) The ALJ found that “[t]hese impairments are severe because, individually and in combination, they more than minimally limit the claimant's ability to engage in work-related activity.” (R. at 13.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had the following non-severe impairments: rosacea, bunions, foot hypermobility, pronated foot, alcohol abuse in remission, and status post bladder surgery.[3]

         At step three, the ALJ found that Milton “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments” in the Social Security regulations. (R. at 14.) The ALJ explained that “[n]o treating or examining physician has suggested the presence of any impairment or combination of impairments of listing level severity.” (Id.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Milton's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). The ALJ concluded that Milton “has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work.” (R. at 15.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Milton

can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but cannot climb ladders or scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She cannot work at unprotected height or with dangerous, unprotected machinery or in extreme cold. She is limited to with a maximum SVP of 4.

(Id.)

         In developing this RFC, the ALJ noted that “[t]he record as a whole is not entirely consistent with the claimant's allegations.” (R. at 16.) These inconsistencies include:

• “While the claimant testified that she stopped working in 2010 due, in part, to knee pain, the record does not show that she reported consistent knee pain until after she ...

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