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Carnahan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 2, 2018

LYNN M. CARNAHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LEWIS T. BABCOCK, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Lynn Carnahan appeals Defendant's (the “Commissioner”) final administrative decision denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Jurisdiction in this appeal is proper pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Oral argument would not materially assist in the determination of this appeal. After consideration of the briefs and the record, I reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. Statement of the Case

         Following a hearing, Plaintiff's disability claim was denied in a decision dated June 24, 2016. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review thereby rendering the ALJ's June 24, 2016 decision the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of my review. Plaintiff timely filed this appeal seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision.

         II. Statement of Facts

         A. Plaintiff's Disability Hearing

         At the May 16, 2016 hearing on Plaintiff's disability claim, Plaintiff testified that she had worked three temp jobs and two other short term jobs since she left her 9-year employment doing credit collections for Staples in April of 2014. AR 316-19. Plaintiff left the last of these jobs the week before her hearing because of issues with standing and sitting. AR 316. Plaintiff testified that she was unable to work full time because sitting all day caused her pain to escalate and that standing caused pain in her feet and legs. AR 322. Plaintiff estimated that her pain ranged from 5 to 7 on a scale from 1 to 10 with pain medication and that she would probably be unable to get out of bed without medication. AR 322-23. Plaintiff testified that she could sit for 15-20 minutes and then needed a 2-5 minute break. AR 325. Plantiff further testified that she suffered from near daily panic attacks and depression and needed to use an inhaler 2-3 times per month for asthma, COPD, and allergies. AR 326, 328 & 331.

         The VE identified Plaintiff's past work as an accounting clerk, a collection clerk, a mail carrier, a women's apparel and accessories salesperson, and a coding file clerk. AR 334. The ALJ asked the VE if a person 54 years old with a high school education and Plaintiff's described work history who could perform work at the medium range of exertion; lift 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; sit, stand, or walk for unlimited periods; frequently climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl but who must avoid heights, heavy machinery, extreme cold, and concentrated exposure to chemicals could perform any of Plaintiff's past work. AR 334-35. The VE responded that such an individual could perform all of Plaintiff's past work. AR 335. The VE gave the same response when the ALJ reduced the exertional level in her hypothetical to sedentary. Id. The ALJ then added that the person in her hypothetical would need to alternate between sitting and standing such that they could sit for 20 minutes but would then need to get up for 2-5 minutes. Id. The VE responded that this person could still perform Plaintiff's past work unless they needed to walk away from their work station for more than 2 minutes. AR 335-36.

         Next, the ALJ questioned the VE about a person who could only sit and stand and/or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. AR 336. The VE responded that these restrictions would be work preclusive. Id. The VE further testified that a person limited to frequent fingering and handling could perform all of Plaintiff's past work but a person limited to occasional fingering and handling could not. Id. In response to questioning from Plaintiff's attorney, the VE indicated that a person off task 20 percent of the time due to pain or panic attacks or absent at least two days per month would not be able to perform Plaintiff's past work or any other work. AR 336-37.

         B. The ALJ's Decision

         In her June 24, 2016 decision, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential process outlined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a). At the first step of the sequential process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date of April 30, 2014. AR 296. At the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had impairments of obesity, peripheral neuropathy, and headaches. Id. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 298.

         The ALJ next concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except that Plaintiff could lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; sit, stand, and without limitations except that Plaintiff needs to stand for 2-5 minutes at her work station after sitting for 20 minutes; frequently climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; frequently handle and finger; and should avoid heights, heavy machinery, extreme cold, and concentrated exposure to chemicals. Id.

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as an accounting clerk, collection clerk, and coding file clerk and was therefore was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. AR 305.

         III. ...


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