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Mullins v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

February 13, 2014

SHARI A. MULLINS, Plaintiff,



Plaintiff Shari A. Mullins ("Ms. Mullins") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administrator (the "Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Insurance Benefits ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.


A. Procedural History

Ms. Mullins filed her applications for DIB and SSI on January 6, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of January 31, 2003. These claims were initially denied on March 27, 2009, and upon reconsideration on June 24, 2009. Thereafter, Ms. Mullins requested a hearing, which was held on May 10, 2011 before Administrative Law Judge Monica LaPolt (the "ALJ"). On August 31, 2011, the ALJ denied Ms. Mullins' applications and on January 2, 2013, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's denial, thus making it the final decision of the Commissioner for the purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R § 416.1481. On February 8, 2013, Ms. Mullins filed this appeal requesting judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

B. Factual and Medical Background

Ms. Mullins was forty-six years old at the time of her May 2011 hearing and she has a 7th grade education. She attempted to obtain a GED but was unsuccessful. She has several physical, emotional, and mental limitations, but only her mental limitations are being contested here. Although Ms. Mullins had not worked in two years when she appeared before the ALJ, she had held several jobs before that, but never for extended periods of time. These jobs included cook, "french fryer, " dishwasher, janitor, busser, and cashier.

Ms. Mullins lives with her adult daughter and has custody of her granddaughter (age 11) and grandson (age 8), since birth. At home she is able to take baths, watch television, periodically clean the house, and go shopping. She struggles to read a newspaper and cannot write well. Ms. Mullins relies on her daughter to help her take her medication because she frequently forgets. Her driver's license is expired and has not been renewed because Ms. Mullins has been unable to pass the test after three or four attempts.

Ms. Mullins' mental and emotional impairments were diagnosed by two different doctors, Dr. Herbert Henry ("Dr. Henry") and Dr. Stacia Hill ("Dr. Hill"). Dr. Henry evaluated Ms. Mullins at the request of the Indiana Disability Determination Bureau. After performing several tests, Dr. Henry determined that Ms. Mullins' Full Scale IQ was 65, which indicated mild mental retardation. He commented that her level of adjustment exceeded the level characteristic of mildly mentally retarded individuals, and diagnosed her with Borderline Intellectual Functioning.

Dr. Hill was the Disability Determination Service Psychiatric Expert and provided an additional mental assessment of Ms. Mullins. According to Dr. Hill, Ms. Mullins has moderate mental limitations and would be unable to complete complex tasks, but would be able to complete repetitive tasks on a sustained basis. In determining the degree of Ms. Mullins' functional limitations, Dr. Hill identified Ms. Mullins' difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace as moderate. In her written assessment, she then concluded that while Ms. Mullins' concentration was moderately impacted, it was reasonable for simple tasks.

C. The ALJ's Decision

The ALJ made the following findings as part of her decision. At step one, the ALJ determined that Ms. Mullins has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 31, 2003, because the work she performed after that date did not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity. At step two, the ALJ found that Ms. Mullins has the following severe impairments: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Borderline Intellectual Functioning. The ALJ determined that Ms. Mullins has the following non-severe impairments: chronic low back pain, Emphysema, Restless Leg Syndrome, trouble sleeping, lung swelling, fatigue, depression, Esophageal Reflux Disease, Anxiety NOS, panic attacks, headaches, incontinence, pain in the Second Metacarpal, mild dependent Atelectasis in lung bases, small nasal tip fracture, rectal bleeding, hysterectomy, and estrogen deficiency. At step three, the ALJ found that Ms. Mullins does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ concluded that Ms. Mullins has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work and that Ms. Mullins has the mental capacity to understand, remember, and follow simple instructions and can perform simple, routine, repetitive, concrete, tangible tasks. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Mullins is capable of performing some of her past relevant work such as janitor and bus person. At step five, the ALJ found that Ms. Mullins is capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, and therefore concluded Ms. Mullins is not disabled.


Under the Act, a claimant is entitled to DIB or SSI if he establishes he has a disability. Disability means the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment... which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1); 423(d)(1)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Social Security Administration ("the SSA") has implemented these statutory standards in part by prescribing a "five-step sequential evaluation process" for determining disability. 20 ...

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