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Williams v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

January 25, 2018

YALONDA C. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLA1RE V. EAGAN O UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now before the Court is the Report and Recommendation (Dkt. # 18) of the magistrate judge recommending that the Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Plaintiff has filed an objection (Dkt. # 19) to the Report and Recommendation, and defendant has filed a response (Dkt. # 21).

         I.

         On November 15, 2013, plaintiff applied for supplemental security income, and on November 21, 2013, she applied for disability benefits. Dkt. # 10, at 20. On January 29, 2014, these claims were denied, and on April 18, 2014, the initial denial was affirmed on reconsideration. Id. at 84. On June 16, 2014, plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Id.

         A hearing was held before an ALJ on April 8, 2015, and plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing. Id. at 35. Counsel stated that plaintiff's primary impairments were her “back and neck.” Id. at 38. As to her back, plaintiff explained that her “spinal cord is deteriorating, ” her back is “swelling up, ” she has “bad back pain, ” and she cannot “bend down.” Id. at 53. Regarding her neck, plaintiff specified that she has “real bad headaches” (for which she takes extra strength Excedrin) from a “pinched nerve” and has issues “reaching up.” Id. at 59-60. These were the only impairments discussed.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was fifty-one years old. Id. at 41. She is single and has four children and seven grandchildren, though she does not live with any of them. Id. at 42. She lives in a second floor apartment, which she climbs stairs to enter. Id. at 43. Plaintiff has a roommate, who helps her with various household chores. Id. at 43.[1] Plaintiff has never had a driver's license, receives food stamps, lives in section 8 housing, attends church three days per week (where she volunteers as a greeter at the door), smokes three cigarettes a day (and used to smoke crack cocaine but has been clean for five years), finished the ninth grade but did not obtain a GED, and has two criminal convictions (one for possession with intent to distribute and a second for unlawful forgery). Id. at 45-52. The last job she held was as a laminator (i.e. she rolled stop signs, name plates, and other such material through a laminating machine). Id. at 52.

         Toward the end of the hearing, the ALJ called a vocational expert (VE) to testify, and the VE stated that plaintiff's past relevant work included housekeeper, janitor, production worker, and order puller. Id. at 73. The ALJ posed a series of hypotheticals and there were jobs the hypothetical claimant could perform, but the VE testified that a person would not be able to keep these jobs if they were moving at “three-quarter[s] . . . speed.” Id. at 81.

         The ALJ entered a written decision denying plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Id. at 20-28. The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe degenerative disc disease, but the impairment did not meet or exceed an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 23.[2] The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following the residual functional capacity (RFC):

[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of “light” work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Claimant could lift/carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently; could sit for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks; could stand/walk for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks; could push/pull up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; and could occasionally reach overhead with either left or right shoulders.

Id. at 24. The ALJ summarized plaintiff's medical history, noting, inter alia, that she presented to a hospital on August 29, 2013 for hypertension and a thyroid problem, and that her blood pressure was elevated, but that she had been out of blood pressure medication for four weeks and out of thyroid medication for three months. Id. at 25. The ALJ also stated that the ALJ was “persuaded by the physical examination findings of Dr. Leah Upton [D.O.] [the consultive examiner] . . . finding ‘light' exertional limitations.” Id. at 25. Additionally, the ALJ stated that two state agency physicians affirmed these findings, and the ALJ gave “these physician findings great weight.” Id.

         Based on claimant's hearing testimony and the medical evidence of record, the ALJ found that “claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not entirely credible . . . .” Id. at 26. Accordingly, the ALJ found further that although plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work, considering her age, education, and work experience, she could work as a routing clerk or assembler of electrical accessories. Id. at 27. And, since there were jobs in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled. Id.

         II.

         Without consent of the parties, the Court may refer any pretrial matter dispositive of a claim to a magistrate judge for a report and recommendation. However, the parties may object to the magistrate judge's recommendation within fourteen days of service of the recommendation. Schrader v. Fred A. Ray, M.D., P.C., 296 F.3d 968, 975 (10th Cir. 2002); Vega v. Suthers, 195 F.3d 573, 579 (10th Cir. 1999). The Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 ...


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