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Hollingsworth v. Colvin

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

March 25, 2015

TINA M. HOLLINGSWORTH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

TANYA WALTON PRATT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Tina Hollingsworth ("Ms. Hollingsworth") appeals the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") dated July 24, 2012, following a hearing held on May 8, 2012, that denied her application for benefits. That denial was upheld by the Appeals Council, who affirmed the ALJ's denial decision on September 17, 2013. Because the procedures in this case reveal errors that require REMAND, the Court will not provide here a full explication of the record but will focus on the facts demonstrating error.

I. BACKGROUND

Because the May 8, 2012 hearing was actually the third hearing Ms. Hollingsworth had on her application, an abbreviated but thorough procedural history is necessary. Ms. Hollingsworth first filed applications for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and for Social Security Supplemental Security disability benefits on October 20, 2009. Her claim for benefits was first heard by ALJ John Murdock on March 7, 2011, after which he found at step two that Ms. Hollingsworth has the severe impairments of COPD and migraine headaches.[1] ALJ Murdock further found, however, that she did not meet a Listing at step three and, at step four, that her impairments do not preclude her past relevant work. He thus denied her claim for benefits. The Appeals Council remanded, however, directing on remand that the ALJ:

• In evaluating the evidence at step 4 of the sequential process, compare the physical demands of the claimant's past relevant work with her maximum residual functional capacity (Social Security Rulings 82-61 and 82-62).
• Obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base (Social Security Rulings 83-12 and 85-15). The hypothetical questions should reflect the specific capacity/limitations established by the record as a whole. The Administrative Law Judge will ask the vocational expert to identify examples of appropriate jobs and to state the incidence of such jobs in the national economy.... Further, before relying on the vocational expert evidence the Administrative Law Judge will identify and resolve any apparent conflicts between the occupational evidence provided by the vocational expert and information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and its companion publication, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations (Social Security Ruling 00-4p).

R. 114-15.

A different ALJ, Monica LaPolt, was assigned the case on remand. Ms. Hollingsworth appeared, without counsel, for hearing on February 9, 2012. ALJ LaPolt advised Ms. Hollingsworth, among other things, as follows:

ALJ: All right, you had a VTC hearing with a different judge, and he denied your benefits. You appealed to the Appeals Council, which is our reviewing body; and they remanded it for further development of your work history. I understand second-hand from Ms. Koppin, that you wanted to have an opportunity to seek an attorney, is that right?

R. 60.

ALJ LaPolt went on to advise Ms. Hollingsworth of her right to be represented by an attorney, that an attorney could assist her in gathering and presenting evidence and argument, and that some attorneys will represent individuals for free or on a contingency basis. (R. 61.)

Having been advised by Ms. Hollingsworth that she did wish to secure counsel, the ALJ LaPolt explained:

ALJ: Okay. If you do wish to be represented, my office will grant you one postponement to seek representation. However, you do need to understand that only one postponement will be granted for this purpose. And that when your hearing is rescheduled you'll have to ...

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