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Hoglund v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 26, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Gerald B. Cohn United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Procedural Background

         On October 8, 2013, Breanna L. Hoglund (“Plaintiff”) filed as a claimant for disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1382-1383 (“Act”), with a claimed a disability onset date of January 1, 2009. (Administrative Transcript (“Tr.”), 17, 127). On November 17, 2014, the ALJ held a hearing where Plaintiff proceeded without representation and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 30-58). On January 16, 2015, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 14-29). Plaintiff sought review of the unfavorable decision, which the Appeals Council denied on May 18, 2016, thereby affirming the decision of the ALJ as the “final decision” of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). (Tr. 1-7).

         On July 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to appeal a decision of Defendant denying social security benefits. (Doc. 1). On December 8, 2016, Defendant filed an administrative transcript of proceedings. (Doc. 13). On May 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed a brief in support of the appeal. (Doc. 21 (“Pl. Br.”)). On July 31, 2017, Defendant filed a brief in response. (Doc. 23 (“Def. Br.”)). On August 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed a reply brief. (Doc. 25 (“Reply”)).

         II. Background

         Plaintiff was born in February 1991 and thus was classified by the regulations as a younger person through the date of the ALJ decision. (Tr. 25); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c). Plaintiff's appeal is limited to the determination that she was not disabled due to her learning impairment. (Pl. Br. at 2). Plaintiff completed the twelfth grade and attended special education classes. (Tr. 148). Plaintiff had a driver's permit but did not pursue a license due to fear of driving and later was approved for a transportation service to take her to work. (Tr. 42-43, 47-48). Plaintiff earned $5095 in 2012. (Tr. 136-40). While working as a stocker for K-mart, Plaintiff earned $927 in fourth quarter of 2013 and $2347 in the first quarter of 2014. (Tr. 138-39). Plaintiff's part-time work met the description for stocker under the Dictionary of Occupation Titles (DICOT) 922.687-058, which was performed at the medium level of exertion and was an unskilled (SVP 2[2]). (Tr. 55-56). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's part-time job did not qualify as substantial gainful activity. (Tr. 19); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1574 (effective from December 18, 2006 to November 15, 2016)); Bailey v. Berryhill, 250 F.Supp.3d 782, 788 (D. Colo. 2017). In 2013, the minimum wage threshold was an average of $1040 per month and in 2014 the minimum wage threshold amount was $1070 per month. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1574(b)(2).[3]

         III. Legal Standards and Review of ALJ Decision

         To receive disability or supplemental security benefits under the Act, a claimant bears the burden to demonstrate an “inability 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); accord 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act further provides that an individual:

shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). Plaintiff must demonstrate the physical or mental impairment “by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).

         Social Security regulations implement a five-step sequential process to evaluate a disability claim. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Williams v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 748, 750 (10th Cir. 1988) (setting forth the five steps in detail). “If a determination can be made at any of the steps that a plaintiff is or is not disabled, evaluation under a subsequent step is not necessary.” Williams, 844 F.2d at 750. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See Wells v. Colvin, 727 F.3d 1061, 1064 at n.1. (10th Cir. 2013). If the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner must show at step five that jobs exist in the national economy that a person with the claimant's abilities, age, education, and work experience can perform. Id.

         In reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, the Court is limited to determining whether the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“court shall review only the question of conformity with such regulations and the validity of such regulations”); Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257, 1261 (10th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence “does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The Court's review is based on the record, and the Court will “meticulously examine the record as a whole, including anything that may undercut or detract from the [Administrative Law Judge's] findings in order to determine if the substantiality test has been met .” Id. The Court may neither re-weigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Hackett v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 1168, 1172 (10th Cir. 2005). Even if the Court might have reached a different conclusion, if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision stands. See White v. Barnhart, 287 F.3d 903, 908 (10th Cir. 2002).

         A. Step Five Finding

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed reversible error at step five of the sequential evaluation. (Pl. Br. at ...

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