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Joy R. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Vermont

November 28, 2018

JOY R., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER (DOCS. 9, 10)

          Geoffrey W. Crawford, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Joy R. brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting reversal of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and for supplemental security income (SSI). (Doc. 1.) Currently pending is Plaintiffs motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Doc. 9) and the Commissioner's motion to affirm (Doc. 10). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs motion is denied, and the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         Background

         Plaintiff was 54 years old on her alleged onset date of December 24, 2014. (AR 80.) Since that date, she claims she has been unable to do substantial work due to a fibula fracture in her left leg, diabetes, and high blood pressure. (Id.)

         Plaintiff testified that she graduated from high school and technical school. (AR 58.) Plaintiff worked as an office clerk between 1987 and 2010 for various employers. (See AR 269.) From 1987 to 2004 and from 2007 to 2010, she was a clerk in the probation office of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice for over 21 years altogether.[1] (AR 61, 233, 239, 269, 298, 318.) Plaintiff testified that the position was "primarily clerical, typing/filing." (AR 61-62.) In her Work History Report, she stated that her duties at the probation office included "typing, filing, greet general public, travel, prepare incoming-outgoing mail, purchase office supplies, monthly reports." (AR 270.) She also indicated in the report that the position required "machines, tools or equipment" and "technical knowledge or skills." (Id.) In a work background form, Plaintiff characterized her work at the probation office as that of a "clerk-secretary," listing the duties performed as "type, file, greet customers [and] families, attend training, organized holiday gatherings, assign probation officers, mail." (AR 318.) She testified that she left the position because the probation office "underhandedly, terminated [her] job." (AR 62.) In 2004, Plaintiff worked as a clerk in the Georgia Health Department for three months. (AR 269.) She stated in the Work History Report that her duties were "all clerical-greet public, update records, locate files, typing, telephone," and indicated that she used "machines, tools or equipment" and "technical knowledge or skills" in this position. (AR 265.) Plaintiff next held a clerk position in a hospital from 2005 to 2007. (AR 269.) She testified that the job involved "[predominantly just a lot of filing" and listed her duties in the Work History Report as "file records, reports, training, cross-reference on computer." (AR 275.)

         Plaintiff filed her applications for SSI and DIB on January 9, 2015. (AR 80, 92.) Her claims were initially denied on or about April 3, 2015. (AR 90-91, 102-03.) She requested a hearing, and Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Lisa Groeneveld-Meijer conducted a hearing on September 14, 2016. (AR 43-79.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing without representation. Vocational Expert (VE) Edward Kolandra also testified. ALJ Groeneveld-Meijer issued an unfavorable decision on November 10, 2016 (AR 20-33.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review (AR 1). She appealed to this court on April 14, 2017. (Doc. 1.)

         ALJ Decision

         Social Security Administration regulations set forth a five-step, sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Mclntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2014). First, the Commissioner considers "whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity." Id. Second, if the claimant is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the Commissioner considers "whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments." Id. Third, if the claimant does suffer from such an impairment, the inquiry is "whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments." Id. Fourth, if the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the Commissioner determines, "based on a 'residual functional capacity' assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment." Id.

         Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform past work, the Commissioner determines "whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience." Id.; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proving her case at steps one through four. Mclntyre, 758 F.3d at 150. At step five, there is a "limited burden shift to the Commissioner" to "show that there is work in the national economy that the claimant can do." Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 306 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam).

         Employing that sequential analysis in her November 10, 2016 decision, ALJ Groeneveld-Meijer first determined Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 24, 2014. (AR 25.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has three severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the left ankle, post left lateral malleolus fracture, and disorder of the spine. (AR 26.) At step three, the ALJ found that none of Plaintiff s impairments, alone or in combination, meets or medically equals a listed impairment.

         Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) with the following exceptions:

[S]he can lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently, can alternate between siting [sic] and standing in her immediate work area for up to 3 minutes every hour, cannot climb ladders, can occasionally balance but cannot stoop, crouch, kneel or crawl; cannot tolerate exposure to extreme temperatures to hazards and needs the option to take additional unscheduled breaks for up to 5 minutes during non-break hours.

(AR 28.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR31.)

         At step five, the ALJ followed the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the "Grid Rules") contained in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was 54 years old when she allegedly became disabled and identified Plaintiff as an individual of "advanced age." (AR 31.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (Id.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had acquired work skills from past relevant work. (AR 31-32.) Based on Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that Plaintiffs acquired work skills "are transferable to other occupations with jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy." (AR 32.) The ALJ therefore concluded that "a finding of 'not disabled' is appropriate under the framework of Medical-Vocational Rule 201.15 and Rule 201.07." (Id.) Consequently, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 24, 2014 through the date of the decision. (Id.)

         Standard ...


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