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Washington v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 28, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


JOHN E. MARTIN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Patricia Washington on August 6, 2012, and a Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner [DE 16], filed by Plaintiff on February 8, 2013. Plaintiff requests that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On May 17, 2013, the Commissioner filed a response, and on May 31, 2013, Plaintiff filed a reply. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand.


On September 28, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") with the U.S. Social Security Administration ("SSA") alleging that she became disabled on October 28, 2009. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On March 22, 2011, Kathleen Mucerino held a video hearing at which Plaintiff, with an attorney representative, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. On April 1, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled.

The ALJ made the following findings under the required five-step analysis:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of October 28, 2008. (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. and 20 CFR 416.971 et seq ).
3. The claimant has severe impairments: disorders of back, affective disorder, personality disorder, and bulimia (20 CFR 404.1250(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments in 20 CFR 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
5. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). She must use a cane to balance when walking and must avoid concentrated exposure to wetness or hazards like machinery, unprotected heights, or wet or uneven surfaces. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; cannot stoop, kneel, or crawl; and can occasionally balance or crouch. She can only understand, remember, and consistently perform simple, routine, unskilled work. She must work in a socially isolated environment with no contact with the general public and only necessary conduct with co-workers and supervisors.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was 39 years old, defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (see SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, ad 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 28, 2008, the alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

On June 12, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


A. Background

Plaintiff was 41 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. She had completed two years of college education and had a certified nursing assistant license. She had past work as a certified nursing assistant and a production operator.

B. Medical Evidence

Plaintiff injured her back on October 28, 2008. She was treated by orthopedic surgeon Mark K. Chang, M.D., who diagnosed Plaintiff with severe disc degeneration at the L5-S1 level with grade I isthmic spondylolisthesis and bilateral forminal stenosis. An MRI identified degenerative joint and disk disease with mild to moderate bilateral foraminal narrowing. On March 11, 2009, Plaintiff underwent back surgery, including a L-S1 laminectomy, discectomy, interbody fusion with spacer and synthetic bone grafting, posterolateral fusion with synthetic bone grating and instrumentation. ...

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