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Johnson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

May 31, 2016

FELICIA C JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CHERYL R. ZWART, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Felicia C. Johnson (“Johnson”), seeks review of the decision by the defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits under Title XVI of the Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 1381. After carefully reviewing the record, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Johnson filed for SSI disability benefits on March 16, 2012, claiming she is unable to work due to disability and pain caused by right carpal tunnel syndrome, a left ankle injury, and discogenic and degenerative back disorders, and mental health impairments caused by antisocial personality disorder and depression. (Filing No. 8-3, at CM/ECF pp. 2-4). Counsel was appointed on April 12, 2012. (Filing No. 8-4, at CM/ECF p. 2). Johnson’s application was denied on May 11, 2012. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 4-7). Plaintiff requested reconsideration and that request was denied on June 15, 2012. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 8-9). Plaintiff requested a hearing. The hearing commenced on June 28, 2013 as scheduled, (Filing No. 8-2, at CM/ECF pp. 36-45), but it was continued because Johnson had relapsed and used cocaine three weeks prior to the hearing. The hearing reconvened on October 22, 2013. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 48-78). Johnson and a vocational rehabilitation expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 47).

         On December 16, 2013, the ALJ issued her written decision stating Johnson was not disabled. (Filing No. 8-2, at CM/ECF pp. 16-27). Plaintiff timely filed a Request for Review of the ALJ’s decision. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 10). After receiving additional evidence at Johnson’s request, (Id. at CM/ECF p. 7), the Appeals Council denied the request on February 24, 2015. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 3). Plaintiff timely filed her appeal in this court on April 23, 2015. (Filing No. 1).

         II. THE ALJ’s DECISION

         The ALJ evaluated Johnson’s claim through the five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether Johnson was disabled. 20 C.F.R. §416.920(a)(4). As reflected in her decision, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 16, 2012, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has a severe impairment; specifically, depression. (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of 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. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: she is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; is limited to simple work-related decisions; is unable to respond appropriately to co-workers and the public, though she can respond appropriately to supervisors on an occasional basis; and her time off task can be accommodated by the normal and customary breaks taken in a routine work setting.
5. The claimant has no history of past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on March 25, 1968 and was 43 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 an issue because the claimant has not performed past relevant work. (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)).

(Filing No. 8-2, at CM/ECF pp. 18-26).

         III. ISSUES RAISED FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

         Johnson requests judicial review of the ALJ’s decision, asserting the following arguments support her claim for reversal:

1) The ALJ erroneously failed to recognize Johnson’s physical impairments as “severe.”
2) The ALJ’s RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole.
3) The ALJ submitted an inaccurate and incomplete hypothetical to the vocational expert, and as a result, the ALJ cannot rely on the vocational expert’s responsive testimony.

(Filing No. 17).

         IV. THE RECORD AND PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE ALJ

         Johnson was 44-years-old when she submitted her application for benefits. She had completed 11 years of education, but did not graduate from high school. Although she began classes to earn her GED, she had not completed that program as of the date of her hearing before the ...


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