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Peterson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

February 5, 2014

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


RICHARD G. KOPF, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff, Robert C. Peterson, brings this suit to challenge the Social Security Commissioner's final administrative decision denying his application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1381-1383f.[1] For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

I. Procedural Background

Plaintiff is a 45-year-old man who has a limited education and work experience as a cook's helper and inventory handler. He applied for SSI on May 11, 2010 (Transcript ("Tr.") (filing 11) at 55, 128-32).[2] The application was denied initially on October 18, 2010 (Tr. 60-63), and was denied upon reconsideration on February 10, 2011 (Tr. 72-75). Following these denials, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 81-83).

Janice E. Barnes-Williams, an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), conducted a hearing by videoconferencing on December 13, 2011 (Tr. 23-55). Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Testimony was also provided by a vocational expert. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 10, 2012 (Tr. 6-22).

Using the 5-step sequential analysis prescribed by Social Security regulations, [3] the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 11, 2010, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq. ).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: coronary artery disease status-post stenting, mood disorder, anxiety, bipolar, and obesity (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to: lift up to twenty pounds occasionally and lift or carry up to ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday; sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday; and must be able to alternate between sitting and standing at least every 30 minutes. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but should never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and should avoid all exposure to extreme cold, humidity, irritants, operational control of moving machinery, unprotected heights and hazardous machinery. Further, the claimant can perform simple routine and repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements involving only simple, work-related decisions with few, if any, workplace changes. Additionally, the claimant can have occasional interaction with the public, occasional supervision, and he can work around co-workers with only occasional interaction with coworkers.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was... 42 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since May 11, 2010, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 9-18).

On March 22, 2012, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (Tr. 5). The request for review was denied on February 13, 2013 (Tr. 1-4). The ALJ's decision thereupon became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Van Vickle v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 825, 828 (8th Cir. 2008). Plaintiff filed this action on April 11, 2013.

II. Issues

Plaintiff advances three main arguments. He contends the ALJ's decision is contrary to law and is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole because (1) "the ALJ disregarded the findings of [Dr. Ihle], the Consultative Examiner (CE)[, ] and failed to fully develop the record in this regard" (filing 17 at 5); (2) the ALJ "disregarded a medical condition of Polyarthralgia and... determin[ed] that [a physician's assistant, ] Mr. Coash[, ] is not an acceptable medical source" ( id. at 7); and (3) "the ALJ's hypothetical questions to the Vocational Expert (VE) were neither accurate nor complete" ( id. at 9). The Commissioner counters that the ...

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