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Peters v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

January 3, 2014

CAROL PETERS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


LAURIE SMITH CAMP, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the denial, initially and on reconsideration, of the Plaintiff's disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq.


Plaintiff Carol Peters ("Plaintiff") filed an application for disability insurance benefits on April 21, 2010. (Tr. 43.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on June 1, 2010 (Tr. 43, 45-48), and on reconsideration on August 2, 2010 (Tr. 44, 50-53). A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge on July 20, 2011, and on August 10, 2011. (Tr. 13-18.) Following the hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not "disabled" as defined in the Act. (Tr. 13-18, 24, 43-44.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff failed to meet her burden and Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one contained in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. (Tr. 15-16.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform unskilled, light work, which did not preclude either her performance of her past work as a motel maid, or the performance of a full range of unskilled light work, including the representative occupations of laundry work and cafeteria attendant. (Tr. 17.)

Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council on August 28, 2011, and submitted additional evidence for the Appeals Council to consider. (Tr. 1-2, 8.) On September 26, 2012, the Appeals Council, having reviewed the additional evidence submitted by Plaintiff regarding her disability claim, found no basis for changing the ALJ's decision and denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-5.)


In Plaintiff's application for DIB, she stated that she was born in 1956, and alleged that she became disabled beginning April 1, 2007. (Tr. 95.) Plaintiff's insured status under Title II of the Act expired on December 31, 2009. (Tr. 15, 111.) In her Disability Report, she alleged disability due to a "bad back." (Tr. 115.)

A. Testimony at the Administrative Hearing

At the administrative hearing on July 20, 2011, Plaintiff's attorney confirmed that Plaintiff had not returned any of the paperwork sent by the agency, including the interrogatories, list of medications, and work history, and Plaintiff was given leave to submit the documents. (Tr. 22, 25.) The attorney confirmed that Plaintiff had not received any medical treatment and that her only medication was over-the-counter ibuprofen. (Tr. 25-26.) Plaintiff's attorney claimed that Plaintiff could not return to her past work because of cognitive difficulties and neurological deterioration that was present in her family history. (Tr. 26.) He suggested that the ALJ could observe her testimony and determine her functioning and whether a consultative examination was warranted. (Tr. 26.)

Plaintiff testified at her administrative hearing that she had received her high school diploma, was of average intelligence, could read and write, and could read a newspaper or magazine. (Tr. 27-28.) Plaintiff had been married for 34 years. (Tr. 28.) Plaintiff had a driver's license, but had stopped driving two years earlier because her husband was concerned about the way she backed out of the driveway. (Tr. 29-30.) Plaintiff worked as a motel maid for most of her work history, and spent a short time cleaning houses for people with special needs. (Tr. 28-29.) Plaintiff testified that she "decided to retire" after she was hurt at work and because her husband received his retirement settlement. (Tr. 30.) She then clarified that she decided to quit work because she could not clean rooms fast enough. (Tr. 31.)

In describing her daily activities, Plaintiff stated she cared for a dog, a cat, and a parrot. (Tr. 31.) She testified that she cleaned all of her house once a day and did laundry. (Tr. 31-32.) Her interests and hobbies included watching television, camping, fishing, and attending weekly car races. (Tr. 32-34.) She handled her own money, had a checkbook, and paid the bills. (Tr. 38.) Plaintiff did the grocery shopping. (Tr. 38.) Because she did not drive, Plaintiff's husband was with her when she left the house and either her husband or son was with her at home. (Tr. 38-39.)

Plaintiff told the ALJ that she had applied for disability because her husband told her she had a bad back. (Tr. 35.) Plaintiff explained that she was burned two years earlier when she used a heating pad without a cover. (Tr. 35-36.) She did not receive any treatment for the burn because she did not like doctors. (Tr. 36.) Plaintiff did not show the ALJ the scar because it was on her lower back. (Tr. 37.) Plaintiff testified that the scar did not give her any problems, and then stated that she had pain in her back since she fell on the ice in high school. (Tr. 37.) She did not think she could be "fast enough" to go back to motel work. (Tr. 37.)

Steven Kuhn, a vocational expert, testified in response to a hypothetical question posed by the ALJ. (Tr. 39-40.) The hypothetical individual was the same age as Plaintiff and had the same education and work experience. (Tr. 40.) The ALJ first asked the vocational expert to assume the questions related to an individual who could lift or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently and had no limitation on the ability to stand, sit, or walk. (Tr. 40.) The vocational expert testified that such an individual could return to Plaintiff's past work as a motel cleaner. (Tr. 40.) If the individual were restricted to work with light exertion, i.e., lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, the individual could still perform the motel cleaner job. ...

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