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Hawkins v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 26, 2018

MELISSA M. HAWKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER VACATING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE

          William J. Martínez, United States District Judge

         This is a Social Security benefits appeal brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Melissa M. Hawkins (“Hawkins”) challenges the final decision of Defendant, the Social Security Administration (“Administration”), denying her application for supplemental security income. The denial was affirmed by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who ruled that Hawkins was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. This appeal followed.

         For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision is vacated and this case is remanded to the Administration for further proceedings consistent with this order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Hawkins was born in 1980 and was 28 years old on the alleged onset date of June 14, 2009. (Administrative Record (“R.”) [ECF No. 11] at 40.) Her highest level of educational achievement was high school graduation. (R. at 253.) In the fifteen years preceding the alleged onset date, she worked as a dietary aide and a dishwasher. (R. at 45.)

         Hawkins applied for supplemental security income on April 6, 2011. (R. at 40.) She claimed she is disabled due to back problems, a herniated disc, and a pinched nerve. (Id.) Her application was denied on September 29, 2011. (R. at 46-47.) She requested and received a hearing in front of an ALJ, Richard Maddigan. (R. at 27.) On October 15, 2012, he issued a written decision upholding the Administration's denial of benefits. (R. at 13.) Hawkins ultimately appealed that decision to this Court. (See Hawkins v. Colvin, No. 14-cv-1102-AP (D. Colo., filed Apr. 17, 2014).) Before the Court could reach a decision, the Administration moved to remand the matter for additional findings and conclusions, and the Court granted that order, thus terminating the appeal. (R. at 309.)[2]

         Hawkins received a new hearing in front of a new ALJ, Debra Boudreau. (R. at 286.) On April 8, 2016, she issued a written decision in accordance with the Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process.[3]

         At step one, the ALJ found that Hawkins had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 6, 2011. (R. at 247.)

         At step two, the ALJ found that Hawkins “has the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, obesity, borderline intellectual functioning, and depressive disorder with avoidant personality traits.” (Id.)

         At step three, the ALJ found that Hawkins's impairments, while severe, do not meet or medically equal any of the “listed” impairments in the Social Security regulations. (R. at 248.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Hawkins's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). The ALJ concluded that Hawkins possesses the RFC

to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c). Thus, the claimant can occasionally lift, carry, push or pull 50 pounds at a time, and frequently lift, carry, push, and/or pull objects weighing up to 25 pounds. The claimant can walk for six hours during an eight-hour workday, stand for six hours during an eight hour workday, and can stand or walk for a total of six hours during an eight-hour workday. The claimant can sit for six hours total during an eight-hour workday. The claimant should avoid ladders, unprotected heights, and avoid close proximity to dangerous moving machinery. The claimant is able to understand and remember simple instructions that can be learned and master[ed] ¶ 30 days. The claimant can sustain concentration, persistence, and pace for those instructions as long as the work is in a low stress environment involving routine work with no frequent or prolonged social interaction[s]. The claimant can tolerate supervision[ and] routine work changes, and the claimant can plan and set simple goals. The claimant can travel and is able to avoid workplace hazards.

(R. at 252.) Then, at step four, the ALJ concluded that Hawkins's RFC precludes her from returning to her past relevant work. (R. at 258.)

         At step five, the ALJ found that Hawkins's RFC permits her to work as a “farm worker II, ” “industrial cleaner, ” and “hand packager, ” and that each of these jobs exists in sufficient numbers in the regional and national economy. (R. at 260.)

         Accordingly, the ALJ found that Hawkins is not entitled to Social Security benefits. (R. at 260-61.) Hawkins appealed to the Social Security Appeals Council, which denied review. (R. at 274.) Hawkins then filed this action ...


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