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Young Y.W. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

August 27, 2019

YOUNG Y.W., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLAIRE V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the report and recommendation (Dkt. # 16) of Magistrate Judge Frank H. McCarthy recommending that the Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration to deny plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Plaintiff has filed an objection (Dkt. # 17) to the report and recommendation, and she seeks remand for further review. Defendant has filed a response to plaintiff's objection (Dkt. # 18).

         I.

         On October 14, 2014, plaintiff applied for benefits, alleging disability due to both physical and psychological conditions, including loss of hearing, degenerative disc disease, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and somatic dysfunction disorder. Dkt. # 10, at 17. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), and that hearing was held on February 15, 2017. Dkt. # 10, at 15.

         Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and was represented by an attorney. Id. Plaintiff was fifty-three years old at the time of the hearing and fifty years old when she claimed benefits. Dkt. # 10, at 26. Plaintiff lives with her boyfriend, who owns the house in which she resides. Dkt. # 10, at 73. She receives food stamps, but has no income. Id. at 20. She has not worked since the amended date of her alleged disability, which is October 11, 2011. Id. Prior to her alleged disability, in 2006, plaintiff worked as a machine operator for EmbroidMe, a local embroidering company. Id. at 76. While there, she did many tasks, including operating machinery, cleaning, embroidering items, and opening and unpacking boxes. Id. After working for EmbroidMe, plaintiff worked in 2009 as a nail technician. Id. at 76-77. Plaintiff testified that, while working for EmbroidMe, she would not lift much weight, but while working as a nail tech, she would lift ten to fifteen pounds of weight at a time. Id. at 76, 78. Plaintiff testified that she wears hearing aids. Id. at 79. She is right-handed, but drops things with her right hand. Id. at 20. She also testified that she has been going to counseling and recovery services for at least five years. Id. at 80. Plaintiff alleges that she cannot carry more than five pounds of weight, and cannot sit, stand, or walk for more than fifteen to thirty minutes at a time. Id. at 80-81. She also complains of lower back pain, neck pain, right shoulder pain, and trouble sleeping due to her depression. Id. at 20, 82. Plaintiff went to high school in South Korea, and English is her second language. Id. at 20, 22. Plaintiff takes medication for sleeping. Id. at 82.

         At the disability hearing, the ALJ called vocational expert (VE) Ann Young, L.P.C., a licensed professional counselor, to testify about plaintiff's previous work history and her ability to work. Id. at 87. The VE testified that plaintiff has been a manicurist, which the VE described as a semi-skilled job with sedentary exertion, and an embroidery machine operator, which the VE described as an unskilled job requiring light exertion according to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (4th ed. Rev. 1991) [DOT]. Id. at 88-89. The ALJ next asked the VE a series of hypotheticals. Id. at 89. The ALJ first asked whether a hypothetical individual of the plaintiff's age, education, and past jobs, who could understand simple one to three step instructions with routine supervision, with breaks every two hours, and who occasionally interacted with supervisors and coworkers but never with the general public, could perform any of the jobs plaintiff had occupied prior to claiming disability. Id. at 89-90. The VE responded that the hypothetical would allow for work as an embroidery machine operator (DOT § 786.685-018) but not as a manicurist (DOT § 331.674-010). Id. at 90. The VE was next asked whether this hypothetical individual could perform any other jobs. Id. The VE answered that the individual could be a hand packager (DOT § 920.587-018), a laundry sorter (DOT § 361.684-014), or a dishwasher (DOT § 318.687-010), which are all unskilled position with medium exertion according to DOT. Id. at 90-91.

         The VE was asked further to assume that the hypothetical individual

is able to lift, carry, push[, ] or pull up to ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally, is able to sit up to six hours in an eight hour day, is able to stand and/or walk up to six hours in an eight hour work day, is able to perform simple, routine tasks with regular breaks every two hours, is able to occasionally interact with supervisors as needed to receive instructions, is able to work in proximity to coworkers but should have no more than occasional direct work interaction with coworkers and should never interact with the general public.

Id. at 91. The ALJ asked if this individual could perform the jobs the VE described or any other jobs. Id. at 91-92. The VE responded that the hypothetical individual could work as an embroidery machine operator (DOT § 786.685-018), a laundry sorter (DOT § 361.684-014), an assembler (DOT § 706.684-022), or a garment folder (DOT § 789.687-066). Id. When the VE was then asked to narrow the results to only those that have a noise level at or less than a routine office setting, the VE stated that the embroidery machine operator and the laundry sorter would be taken out. Id. at 92-93. The ALJ then closed the hearing, but prior to doing so asked plaintiff's attorney to explain the process to plaintiff, “because [the ALJ] hate[s] felling like [he is] having to shout at [plaintiff].” Id. at 96.

         On March 23, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision finding plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 12. The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 14, 2014, that she had severe impairments affecting her ability to work, and that her impairments were not equivalent to one of those listed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 17-18. The ALJ next formulated plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), taking into account the medical evidence and testimony. Id. at 20. The ALJ found that plaintiff could perform “light work, ” as defined by 20 C.F.R. 416.967(b), with certain restrictions. Id. Among the restrictions in plaintiff's RFC was the determination that plaintiff

is able to lift, carry, push or pull up to ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally; able to sit for up to six hours in an eight hour workday; able to stand and/or walk up to six hours in an eight hour work day; . . . able to perform simple, routine tasks with regular breaks every two hours; able to occasionally interact with supervisors as needed to receive work instructions; able to work in proximity to coworkers but should have no more than occasional direct work interaction with coworkers; [and] should never interact with the general public.

Id. Based on the RFC and the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could perform her past work as an embroidery machine operator. Id. at 26. The ALJ also found that plaintiff could perform other occupations present in the national economy, specifically listing the laundry sorter (194, 000 jobs in the national economy), assembler (208, 000 jobs in the national economy), or garment folder (75, 000 jobs in the national economy), all being positions previously identified by the VE, and all of which the DOT defines as “light” exertion, unskilled work. Id. at 27. The ALJ concluded by stating that plaintiff was “capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.” Id.

         On June 3, 2015, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Id. at 15. Plaintiff thereafter sought judicial review, arguing that the ALJ committed several errors, including the step four determination, the step five determination, and the RFC determination. Dkt. # 17, at 1-6. The Court referred the case to the magistrate ...


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