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Hawkins v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

November 6, 2014

LINDA L. HAWKINS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ROGER B. COSBEY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Linda Hawkins appeals to the district court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application under the Social Security Act (the "Act") for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").[1] ( See Docket # 1.) For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.


Hawkins applied for DIB and SSI in January 2011, alleging disability as of July 24, 2010. (Tr. 188-201.) She was last insured for DIB on December 22, 2010 (Tr. 83); therefore, she must establish that she was disabled as of that date for purposes of her DIB claim. See Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1154 (7th Cir. 1997) (explaining that a claimant must establish that he was disabled as of his date last insured in order to recover DIB benefits).

The Commissioner denied Hawkins's application initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 109-24, 129-42.) After a timely request, a hearing was held on May 4, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Yvonne Stam, at which Hawkins, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. (Tr. 32-52.) On July 13, 2012, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Hawkins, concluding that she was not disabled because she could perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 19-27.) The Appeals Council denied her request for review, at which point the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-15.)

Hawkins filed a complaint with this Court on September 24, 2013, seeking relief from the Commissioner's final decision. (Docket # 1.) In this appeal, Hawkins alleges that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly evaluating whether she met Listing 12.05C, intellectual disability;[2] and (2) improperly concluding that she could perform her past relevant work as a fast food worker and metal finisher. (Opening Br. of Pl. in Social Security Appeal Pursuant to L.R. 7.3 ("Pl.'s Opening Br.") 6-10.)


A. Background

At the time of the ALJ's decision, Hawkins was forty-five years old; had a twelfth-grade education with special education classes; and had work experience as a sandwich maker, lathe operator, parts inspector, fast food worker, metal finisher, and doughnut machine operator. (Tr. 83, 85, 280, 282, 287.) She was employed as a fast food worker at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 245.) She alleges that she became disabled due to asthma, obesity, and mild mental retardation. (Pl.'s Opening Br. 2.) Because Hawkins does not challenge the ALJ's findings with respect to her physical limitations, the Court will focus on the evidence pertaining to her mental impairments.

B. Hawkins's Testimony at the Hearing

At the hearing, Hawkins testified that she lives with her ex-husband; daughter; and two grandchildren, ages two and four. (Tr. 35-36.) She was working three days a week at McDonald's, [4] but planned to cut back because she was "trying to raise [her] grandkids right now." (Tr. 35.) Similarly, when asked why she could not work full time, Hawkins listed her leg pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), and depression, and that she was raising her two grandchildren. (Tr. 40.)

In a typical day, Hawkins prepares breakfast for her grandchildren, changes diapers, helps them get dressed, and gets them to school. (Tr. 43-44.) Hawkins can drive, but does not have a car. (Tr. 44.) After she and her mother pick up the grandchildren in the afternoon, Hawkins prepares them lunch and plays with them. (Tr. 44.)

C. Summary of the Relevant Medical Evidence

In March 2007, Hawkins underwent a mental status evaluation by Rebecca Wages, Ph.D. (Tr. 287-94.) Hawkins was pleasant and cooperative, but her mood was dysphoric with a somewhat constricted affect; she was informative, goal directed, and easily understood. (Tr. 287.) She had no history of hallucinations or delusions and appeared in good contact with reality; her thought content revolved around her panic attacks, asthma, and COPD. (Tr. 287.) Dr. Wages indicated that Hawkins thought of suicide, but was not suicidal. (Tr. 287.) Her concentration and short-term memory were impaired, but she demonstrated fair judgment and decision-making. (Tr. 287.)

Hawkins took the WAIS III, revealing a verbal IQ of 65, a performance IQ of 73, and a full scale IQ of 65, which placed her in the mildly mentally retarded range. (Tr. 288, 290-92.) Dr. Wages assigned her a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 69 and diagnosed her with panic disorder without agoraphobia, mild; dysthymia; rule out social phobia; and mild mental retardation based on one WAIS III.[5] (Tr. 289.) Dr. Wages indicated that Hawkins could manage her own funds. (Tr. 289.)

In January 2011, Hawkins was evaluated by Ceola Berry, Ph.D. (Tr. 307-09.) Her mood was euthymic with stable affective expression, and her concentration and attention to task were adequate. (Tr. 308.) She denied suicidal or homicidal ideation, delusions, hallucinations, or obsessive-compulsive preoccupation. (Tr. 308.) She also denied any difficulty in concentration and memory, and her energy level persisted throughout the examination. (Tr. 308-09.) The results of the mental status exam did not reveal any significant problems with concentration, short-term memory, mental calculations, abstracting ability, general knowledge, or judgment. (Tr. 309.) Dr. Berry opined that the findings suggested Hawkins's ability to work would primarily be affected by her perceived physical limitations and secondarily by mood states; she indicated that Hawkins's medication regime was "effective and efficient in managing mood." (Tr. 309.) Dr. Berry assigned Hawkins a GAF of 75 and diagnoses of mood disorder, not otherwise specified, and mild mental retardation by testing. (Tr. 309.)

In February 2011, B. Horton, Psy.D., a state agency psychologist, reviewed Hawkins's record and completed a psychiatric review technique and mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment. (Tr. 326-44.) In the psychiatric review technique, Dr. Horton indicated that Hawkins did not meet or equal a listing, including Listings 12.02, organic mental disorders; 12.04, affective disorders; and 12.06, anxiety-related disorders. (Tr. 330, 340.) He further found that Hawkins had mild limitations in daily living activities and in maintaining social functioning; and moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 340.) In the mental RFC assessment, Dr. Horton found that Hawkins was moderately limited in the ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions, but was not significantly limited in the remaining seventeen mental activity categories. (Tr. 326-27.) He concluded that Hawkins could perform unskilled work, commenting that her daily activities and work history indicated that she had better functioning than what her most recent IQ scores suggested. (Tr. 328.) Dr. Horton's opinion was later affirmed by William Shipley, Ph.D., a second state agency psychologist. (Tr. 344.)


Section 405(g) of the Act grants this Court "the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). The Court's task is limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence, which means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The decision will be reversed ...

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