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Harrison v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 16, 2014

CHRISTINE HARRISON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

ORDER

H. RUSSEL HOLLAND, District Judge.

This is an action for judicial review of the denial of disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 401-434, 1381-1383f. Plaintiff has timely filed her opening brief, [1] to which defendant has responded.[2] Oral argument was not requested and is not deemed necessary.

Procedural Background

Plaintiff is Christine Harrison. Defendant is the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

On February 26, 2010, plaintiff filed applications for disability benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, alleging that she became disabled on June 10, 2009. Plaintiff alleged that she was disabled because of bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing on March 20, 2012, an administrative law judge (ALJ) denied plaintiff's claim. On May 16, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's April 27, 2012 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On July 10, 2013, plaintiff commenced this action in which she asks the court to find that she is entitled to disability benefits.

General Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on March 5, 1961. She was 51 years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff has one teen-age son living at home. Plaintiff has a GED and took a licensed practical nurse course while she was in the military. She also completed training in medical transcription. Plaintiff's past relevant work was as an LPN and a medical transcriptionist.

The ALJ's Decision

The ALJ first determined that plaintiff met "the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 15, 2015."[3]

The ALJ then applied the five-step sequential analysis used to determine whether an individual is disabled.[4]

At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff has "engaged in substantial gainful activity during the following periods: June 2009 through January 2010...."[5] The ALJ noted that plaintiff "reported that she continued to work as a licensed practical nurse from July 10, 2009 until January 15, 2010."[6] Although plaintiff maintained "that her hours were reduced due to her limitations from her medical condition, ... she indicated that she continued to earn over $980 a month until she left this position on January 15, 2010...."[7] Because plaintiff's "earning record on file with the Social Security Administration confirm[ed] that [plainitff's] earnings for 2009 were well above the level of substantial gainful activity[, ]" the ALJ found that plaintiff "engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date until January 15, 2010."[8] However, the ALJ found that "there has been a continuous 12-month period[] during which [plaintiff] did not engage in substantial gainful activity" so she continued with the next steps of the sequential analysis to determine if plaintiff was disabled after January 15, 2010.[9]

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had "the following severe impairments: depression and bipolar disorder, mixed...."[10] The ALJ found plaintiff's asthma and allergic rhinitis non-severe because plaintiff reported to treating sources that "her asthma hardly ever bothers me....'"[11] The ALJ found plaintiff's stress incontinence non-severe because "the record does not confirm any treatment for this impairment since [plaintiff's] alleged onset date."[12] The ALJ found plaintiff's musculoskeletal impairments non-severe "[g]iven the limited medical findings and limited treatment[.]"[13] The ALJ also found plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome non-severe because "the record does not evidence any treatment for this impairment or any findings confirming persistent limitations due to carpal tunnel syndrome."[14]

At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff "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...."[15] The ALJ considered Listing 12.00 for Mental Disorders and Listing 12.04 for Affective Disorders. The ALJ considered the "paragraph B" criteria and found that plaintiff had mild restrictions in activities of daily living, mild difficulties in social functioning, and moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace.[16] The ALJ also found that plaintiff had had no episodes of decompensation, which had been of extended duration.[17]

"Between steps three and four, the ALJ must, as an intermediate step, assess the claimant's RFC." Bray v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin. , 554 F.3d 1219, 1222-23 (9th ...


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