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Taaffe v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

January 5, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner, Social Security Administration DEFENDANT



         Mary Susan Taaffe (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2010), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her applications for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Act.

         The Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge to conduct any and all proceedings in this case, including conducting the trial, ordering the entry of a final judgment, and conducting all post-judgment proceedings. ECF No. 5.[1] Pursuant to this authority, the Court issues this memorandum opinion and orders the entry of a final judgment in this matter.

         1. Background:

         Plaintiff protectively filed her disability applications on August 31, 2012. (Tr. 23, 192). In her applications, Plaintiff alleges being disabled due to lupus, kidney disease, degenerative disc disease, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 217). Plaintiff alleges an onset date of December 8, 2006. (Tr. 23). These applications were denied initially and again upon reconsideration. (Tr. 79-111).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing on her denied applications. (Tr. 138). The ALJ granted that request and held an administrative hearing on March 10, 2014 in Texarkana, Arkansas. (Tr. 40-78, 150). At this hearing, Plaintiff was present and was represented by Kevin O'Connor. Id. Plaintiff, two Medical Experts (“ME”), and a Vocational Expert (“VE”) testified at this hearing. Id. At this hearing, Plaintiff testified she was forty-five (45), which is defined as a “younger person” under 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c) (SSI) and 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c) (DIB). (Tr. 43). As for her level of education, Plaintiff testified she had graduated from high school. Id.

         After this hearing, on May 24, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 20-35). In this decision, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2011. (Tr. 25, Finding 1). The ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since September 5, 2009, her amended alleged onset date. (Tr. 25, Finding 2). The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic lumbar pain, lupus, rheumatoid osteoarthritis, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. (Tr. 25-26, Finding 3). Despite being severe, the ALJ determined these impairments did not meet or medically equal the requirements of any of the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations No. 4 (“Listings”). (Tr. 26-28, Finding 4).

         The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”). (Tr. 28-33, Finding 5). First, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found her claimed limitations were not entirely credible. Id. Second, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform the following:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the wide range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). The ability to lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally, less than 10 pounds frequently, stand and walk 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, and sit up to 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. The claimant would require an option to alternate position for comfort for one to two minutes, no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, other postural functions, such as climbing ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, squat, could be performed occasionally, and frequent handling. The claimant should avoid extreme heat and cold temperatures, avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as dusts, gases, fumes, odors, and poor ventilation, and from a mental standpoint, simple non-complex tasks and occasional contact with the public.

(Tr. 28, Finding 5).

         The ALJ then evaluated Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work (“PRW”). (Tr. 33-34, Finding 6). Considering her RFC, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could not perform any of her PRW. Id. The ALJ also considered whether Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 34-35, Finding 10). The VE testified at the administrative hearing regarding this issue. Id. Based upon that testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform the following: (1) lens inspector (unskilled, sedentary) with 1, 600 such jobs in the region and 16, 000 such jobs in the nation; (2) film inspector (unskilled, sedentary) with 2, 200 such jobs in the region and 22, 000 such jobs in the nation; and (3) dowel inspector (unskilled, sedentary) with 1, 350 such jobs in the region and 13, 500 such jobs in the nation. Id. Because Plaintiff retained the capacity to perform this work, the ALJ also determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from December 8, 2006 through the date of his decision or through April 24, 2014. (Tr. 35, Finding 11).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council. On October 28, 2015, the Appeals Council denied this request. (Tr. 5-8). On November 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present appeal with this Court. ECF No. 1. The Parties consented to the jurisdiction of this Court on November 24, 2015. ECF No. 5. This case is now ripe for determination.

         2. Applicable Law:

         In reviewing this case, this Court is required to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Ramirez v. Barnhart,292 F.3d 576, 583 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but it is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to ...

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