Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Clark v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 28, 2018

Stephanie Lashawn Clark, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Hon. Bruce G. Macdonald, United States Magistrate Judge

         Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Opening Brief (Doc. 14). Defendant filed her Brief (“Response”) (Doc. 15), and Plaintiff filed her Reply Brief (“Reply”) (Doc. 16). Plaintiff brings this cause of action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner for Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Compl. (Doc. 1). The United States Magistrate Judge has received the written consent of both parties, and presides over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On November 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) alleging disability as of December 30, 2010. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 23, 154. After proceeding through the normal administrative process, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued his unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled, on December 6, 2013. Id. at 23, 154-63. Plaintiff sought review, and on April 11, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded the matter back to the ALJ for further consideration of mental impairments. Id. at 23, 173. After a second hearing, on October 14, 2014, the ALJ again issued an unfavorable decision. Id. at 23, 173-86. Plaintiff again sought review, which was denied on January 16, 2015. Id. at 195-97. No. further action was taken by Plaintiff until she began the process in this case.

         On June 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for SSI alleging disability as of October 15, 2014 due to bilateral knee impairments, back impairments, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) with worsening agoraphobia, cognitive impairments, and Type II diabetes mellitus. See AR at 22, 25, 201-02, 206, 208, 220-21, 308, 343, 363, 366, 387. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied this application on February 18, 2016. Id. at 22, 201-19, 244-48. Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration, and on July 1, 2016, SSA denied Plaintiff's application upon reconsideration. Id. at 22, 220-42, 249-53. On July 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed her request for hearing. Id. at 22, 254-67. On January 9, 2017, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Yasmin Elias. Id. at 22, 54-96. On February 13, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR at 19-46. On February 20, 2017, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, and on April 12, 2017, review was denied. Id. at 1-5, 12-18, 459-66. On April 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed this cause of action. Compl. (Doc. 1).

         B. Factual History

         Plaintiff was thirty-five (35) years old at the time of the administrative hearing, and thirty-three (33) at the time of the alleged onset of her disability. AR at 43, 100, 131, 208, 221, 307, 343, 363, 387. Plaintiff received a high school diploma, although she attended special education classes. Id. at 44, 68, 95, 132, 201, 206, 208, 220. Prior to her alleged disability, Plaintiff worked as a housekeeper, cashier, and a front desk clerk. Id. at 43, 74, 77, 101-05.

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that she feels that she cannot work, because her PTSD triggers her traumatic brain injury and her mobility. AR at 62. Plaintiff further testified that she had knee surgery on her right knee twice. Id. at 63. Plaintiff stated that she walks with a cane, which was not prescribed by a doctor. Id. at 63. Plaintiff estimated that she can walk less than a block at one time. Id. Plaintiff stated that she also has trouble sitting, but adjusts because she would rather sit than stand. Id. at 64. Plaintiff testified that she cannot kneel, crouch, stoop or bend. AR at 64. Plaintiff further testified that if she drops something on the floor she has her son pick it up, or tries to “wiggle it up” with her cane. Id. Plaintiff stated that her back pain is on the left side and travels from back around her hip to the front. Id. Plaintiff further stated that she has difficulty balancing and walking. Id. at 65. Plaintiff testified that she has tendinitis and arthritis in her thumb on her right hand. Id. at 65.

         Plaintiff further testified that she suffered a traumatic brain injury in a near drowning incident that occurred when she was three (3). AR at 66. Plaintiff also testified that she had received blows to the head in the course of an abusive relationship. Id. at 67-68. Plaintiff stated that she struggled through school, stayed in special education classes, and graduated with a low academic score. Id. at 68. Plaintiff also testified that she had difficulty with her previous Social Security application, because she struggled with the paperwork. Id. at 68-69. Plaintiff testified that if there is a lot of information on a form, she has trouble understanding the whole form. Id. at 69.

         Plaintiff further testified that her knee was originally injured in an altercation with a Tucson police officer. AR at 69. Plaintiff also testified that she suffers significant PTSD from that event, as well as the abuse she had suffered in previous relationships. Id. at 69-70. Plaintiff stated that men, such as police officers, who appear to be loud and threatening trigger her PTSD, which makes her feel like leaving or running. Id. at 70. Plaintiff also stated that when her PTSD is triggered, she suffers symptoms such as a racing heart, heaving breathing, and crying. Id. Plaintiff further testified that she began art therapy, but felt threatened by a male staff member. Id. at 70-71. Plaintiff also discussed her difficulty in maintaining services, which arose from her brother's untimely death at Arizona State Hospital. AR at 71-72.

         Plaintiff testified that she lives with her 14-year-old son. Id. at 73. Plaintiff further testified that her last paid job was in housekeeping at Villa Maria. Id. at 74. Plaintiff also confirmed working at Motel 6 as a front desk clerk, as well as a cashier at AM PM. Id. at 76. Plaintiff stated that she was discharged from the Motel 6 position, because an audit showed that she had made multiple data entry mistakes. Id. at 77. Plaintiff testified that she is a daily medical marijuana user. AR at 77-79. Plaintiff noted that she also takes Wellbutrin for either her anxiety or depression. Id. at 79.

         Plaintiff indicated that she has applied multiple times for social security. Id. at 75. Plaintiff was unclear regarding how many times she applied and the precise years of application; however, she confirmed two, possibly three prior applications. Id. at 75-76, 81-82.

         2. Vocational Expert Cathleen Spencer's Testimony

         Ms. Cathleen Spencer testified as a vocational expert at the administrative hearing. AR at 22, 83-94. Ms. Spencer confirmed that if her opinion conflicted with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”), she would alert the ALJ and Plaintiff to the conflict. Id. at 83. Ms. Spencer described Plaintiff's past work as a sales clerk as DOT number 290.477-014, Specific Vocational Preparation (“SVP”) of 3, and light work. Id. at 85. Ms. Spencer described Plaintiff's past work as a cleaner, commercial or institutional, as DOT number 381.687-014, SVP 2, heavy work. Id. at 85-86. Ms. Spencer additionally included past work as a fast food worker, which Plaintiff indicated was at KFC. Id. at 85-86. Ms. Spencer described this work as DOT number 311.472-010, SVP 2, light work. AR at 86.

         The ALJ asked Ms. Spencer about a hypothetical individual with the same age, education, and work experience as the Plaintiff. Id. The ALJ asked if such an individual would be able to perform work at the medium exertion level with the additional limitations of “occasionally [climbing] ramps or stairs[;] never ladders, ropes or scaffolds[;] occasionally kneel, crawl and crouch[;] is able to understand and remember and carryout simple instructions and make simple work-related decisions[;] respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers and work situations[;] and deal with routine changes at work[, ] [b]ut the work should not require beyond three to fifth grade level reading, writing and math[, ] and the work should only have occasional superficial contact with coworkers and supervisors and non to minimal with the public[.]” Id. at 86-87. Ms. Spencer testified that such an individual would not be able to perform Plaintiff's past relevant work. Id. at 87. Ms. Spencer further testified that an individual with the hypothetical residual functioning capacity could perform work as a hand packager, DOT number 920.587-018, described as medium work, SVP 2, and 42, 000 jobs available in the national economy. Id. Ms. Spencer also reported that an individual could perform work as a machine packager, DOT number 920.685-078 and described as medium work, SVP 2 with 30, 000 jobs available in the national economy, as well as a cleaner II, DOT number 919.687-014, described as medium work, SVP 1, with 6, 000 jobs available in the national economy. AR at 87.

         The ALJ the asked Ms. Spencer regarding an individual with the same residual functional capacity as the first hypothetical, but who could only perform work at the light exertional level. Id. at 88. Ms. Spencer provided three (3) possible jobs that such an individual could perform, including: (1) housekeeping, DOT number 323.687-014, light work, SVP 2, with 135, 000 jobs available in the national economy; (2) router, DOT number 222.587-038, light work, SVP 2, with 53, 000 jobs available in the national economy; and (3) retail worker, DOT number 209.587-034, light work, SVP 2, with 292, 000 jobs available in the national economy. Id.

         The third hypothetical asked of Ms. Spencer by the ALJ included a hypothetical individual with the same residual functional capacity, but who could only perform sedentary work. Id. Ms. Spencer stated that such an individual could perform the work of a document preparer, DOT number 249.587-018, which is sedentary work, with an SVP of 2, and 46, 000 jobs available in the national economy. Id. Ms. Spencer also testified that such an individual could perform work as an addresser, DOT number 209.587-010, sedentary, SVP 2, and 6, 000 jobs available in the national economy, as well as tube operator, DOT number 239.687-014, sedentary, SVP 2, with 3, 000 jobs available in the national economy. Id. Ms. Spencer also confirmed that all of the sedentary jobs would allow an individual to alternate or move positions every thirty (30) minutes while remaining ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.