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Wilson v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

September 28, 2016

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



         The Plaintiff, Dianalyn Wilson, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). On May 26, 2010, the Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and DIB, alleging disability beginning on May 15, 2010. An ALJ held a hearing on August 11, 2011, at which the Plaintiff-who was represented by an attorney-and a vocational expert (VE) both testified. On August 15, 2011, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has the severe impairments of bipolar disorder and learning impairment. However, she ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff is not disabled. The Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ decision, and on September 13, 2012, the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. On April 11, 2014, the Plaintiff initiated this civil action for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision.


         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         The Plaintiff is 36 years old and was 30 years old at the alleged disability onset date. The Plaintiff lives with her family, including her daughter. The Plaintiff dropped out of school after seventh grade and had been enrolled in special education classes. Since leaving school, the Plaintiff has worked as a cashier, a factory worker, a fast food worker, and a truck driver.

         At the ALJ hearing on August 11, 2011, the Plaintiff testified that she has anxiety and “life” makes it worse. (R. at 66.) The Plaintiff also testified that she has a “huge problem” with crowds of people, but even being in a room with a couple people, similar to the ALJ's hearing room, caused her heart to race. (R. at 68-69.) When asked whether she could go to the supermarket to purchase several items on a list, the Plaintiff testified that the anxiety caused by being at the supermarket would make her worry about everything around her and she would not remember that she had a list. The Plaintiff also stated that she has an eleven-year-old daughter, but the Plaintiff does not attend school activities and she participates in parent-conferences over the phone because she does not like the group setting.

         The Plaintiff testified that during the day, she is able to cook and watch television. However, she does not cook for her family because she is “afraid of messing it up” (R. at 70) and she does not do laundry, go shopping, or do any household chores. In addition to watching television, the Plaintiff testified that she will sleep during the day because she does not sleep at night. Although the Plaintiff testified that she is able to shower on her own, she does not shower very often because she feels like she is “not worthy of a shower.” (R. at 73.) The Plaintiff also indicated that she was not currently seeing a therapist because she had not “found one that works for [her]” (R. at 66), but she was still taking medication. She reported that she experienced side effects form these medications, specifically that one drug makes her “hands and feet go numb, ” and the other drug causes “headaches on top of the anxiety.” (R. at 66-67.)

         The Plaintiff also described her difficulties with staying focused on an activity. For example, she testified that she cannot pay attention to an entire movie and she does not remember what has happened in a television show while she is watching it. Similarly, the Plaintiff testified that she will not retain what she read in a chapter of a book and will need to try to read it again. Further, the Plaintiff testified that she will start washing dishes, but will be distracted by a television program, walk away from the dishes, and forget to go back and finish cleaning them. As a result, the Plaintiff estimated that, if she finishes the dishes, it takes her “[a]bout three hours” to do so. (R. at 73.)

         The Plaintiff also testified about her pervious work experience. She explained that she used to work at Burger King as a fast food worker and a cashier. However, the Plaintiff reported that she was let go “because [she] came up short on [her] drawer too many times-well, I miscounted too many times on my money.” (R. at 71.) The Plaintiff also discussed her time as a truck driver. The Plaintiff testified that her anxiety affected her ability to perform that job, and in particular, she abandoned her “truck on the side of the road and . . . got on a bus and came home” because she “got too overwhelmed” after getting lost so many times. (R. at 72.) Further, the Plaintiff testified that at her factory job she was required to meet a certain level of productivity within a day, but she was unable to complete everything within the day “[b]ecause [she] would get off task.” (R. at 75.)

         B. Vocational Expert's Testimony

         At the hearing, the vocational expert (VE) testified that an individual of the Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience who could understand, remember, and carry out simple tasks in job instructions, and could have brief, superficial contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public, could not perform any of the Plaintiff's past relevant work. However, the VE opined that such an individual could perform unskilled, light work as an encapsulator, a cleaner/housekeeping, a folder, or an inspector. When the VE added the additional restrictions of “[n]o production rate paced jobs” or “need[ing] to be reminded of tasks once a day, ” the individual would still be able to work those jobs. (R. at 80.) If the individual was also “unable to sustain concentration and persistence for even minimum two hour periods at a time, ” then she would be unable to perform any jobs in the national economy. (R. at 81.)

         C. ALJ Decision (Five-Step Evaluation)

         The Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential evaluation process to be used in determining whether the claimant has established a disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (defining a disability under the Social Security Act as being unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months”); § 423(d)(2)(A) (an applicant must show that his “impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy”). The first step is to determine whether the claimant is presently engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Here, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not engaged in SGA, so she moved on to the second step, which is to determine whether the claimant had a “severe” impairment or combination of impairments. An impairment is “severe” if it significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's severe impairments are bipolar disorder and learning impairment.

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff did not have an impairment, or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the impairments listed by the Administration as being so severe that it presumptively precludes SGA. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.

         Because the Plaintiff's impairment was found not to meet or equal a listed impairment, the ALJ was required, at step four, to determine the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC). RFC is an assessment of the claimant's ability to perform sustained work-related physical and mental activities in light of her impairments. SSR 96-8p. The relevant mental work activities include understanding, remembering, and carrying out instructions; responding appropriately to supervision and co-workers; and handling work pressures in a work setting. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(c). The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff had the RFC to perform “a job that entails the understanding, remembering[, ] and carrying out of simple tasks and job instructions” and “is limited to brief interaction with her supervisors, co-workers[, ] and the public.” (R. at 50.)

         At the final step of the evaluation, the ALJ determined that, in light of the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant ...

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