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Daywitt v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 27, 2017

Lydia Daywitt, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Bridget S. Bade, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Lydia Daywitt seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act (the Act). The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), and have filed briefs in accordance with Rule 16.1 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         In October 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and, in January 2013, she filed an application for supplemental security income. (Tr. 356-57, 366-71.)[1] Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of August 1, 2010. (Tr. 201.) After the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's initial applications and her request for reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). After conducting a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 182-89.) This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6.) See also 20 C.F.R. § 404.981 (explaining the effect of a disposition by the Appeals Council). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Administrative Hearing and Record

         Plaintiff was forty-eight years old as of the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 188.) She had a high school education and past relevant work as a truck driver. (Id.) At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that she is unable to work due to back pain, deep vein thrombosis, edema, and use of a walker. (Tr. 204, 206-08.) She also complained of mental health issues, including depression. (Tr. 213-14.) The record before the Court includes medical treatment records and opinions related to Plaintiff's alleged physical and mental impairments. The Court does not discuss these records in detail because, as discussed below, the parties agree that the ALJ committed reversible error in relation to his consideration of Plaintiff's mental impairments.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         A claimant is considered disabled under the Social Security Act if she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (nearly identical standard for supplemental security income disability insurance benefits). To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ uses a five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         A. The Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process

         In the first two steps, a claimant seeking disability benefits must initially demonstrate (1) that she is not presently engaged in a substantial gainful activity, and (2) that her medically determinable impairment or combinations of impairments is severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and (c), 416.920(b) and (c). If a claimant meets steps one and two, there are two ways in which she may be found disabled at steps three through five. At step three, she may prove that his impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments found in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. Part 404. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and (d), 416.920(d). If so, the claimant is presumptively disabled. If not, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At step four, the ALJ determines whether a claimant's RFC precludes her from performing her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant establishes this prima facie case, the burden shifts to the government at step five to establish that the claimant can perform other jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age, work experience, and education. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). If the government does not meet this burden, then the claimant is considered disabled within the meaning of the Act.

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Evaluation Process

         Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 184.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “chronic bronchitis; diabetes mellitus; hypertension; hyperlipidemia; obesity; chronic venous insufficiency; (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” (Id.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have a severe mental impairment. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Tr. 185.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to “perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b).” (Tr. 186.) The ALJ clarified that Plaintiff “can frequently climb ramps/stairs; occasionally climb ladders, ropes, [or] scaffolds; frequently balance and stoop; occasionally kneel, crouch, [and] crawl; [and should] avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, [and] poor ventilation.” (Tr. 186.) The RFC did not include any limitations related to Plaintiff's mental health. (Id.)

         The ALJ concluded that the transferability of job skills was not material to a determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supported a finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 188.) The ALJ concluded that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant number in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from August 1, 2010 through the date of his decision. (Tr. 189.) Therefore, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and her application for supplemental security income. (Id.)

         IV. ...


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