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Sundown v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 28, 2018

DANIELLE MARIE SUNDOWN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Danielle Marie Sundown (“Plaintiff”), represented by counsel, brings this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”), [1] denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).

         PROCEDURAL STATUS

         On July 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging disability as of June 25, 2012, due to a torn left meniscus, pain in the left knee and back, depression and anxiety. Her application was denied, and a hearing subsequently was held before Administrative Law Judge Michael W. Devlin (“the ALJ”) on December 17, 2013. Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified, as Julie A Andrews, an impartial vocational expert (“the VE”). On March 28, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (T.8-22).[2] That decision became the Commissioner's final decision on July 13, 2015, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff then timely commenced this action.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since the application date. Although Plaintiff was employed for brief periods following the application date, it did not rise to the level of SGA.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following “severe” impairments: status-post arthroscopic repair of medial and lateral meniscus tears and anterior cruciate ligament tear of the left knee; obesity; adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood; post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); panic disorder without agoraphobia; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”); alcohol abuse; and cannabis dependence. (T.13).

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ specifically considered Listings 1.02, 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09. (T.14-15). In activities of daily living, Plaintiff was found to have moderate restriction based on the fact that she receives assistance with money management and daily tasks because she becomes overwhelmed easily. However, the ALJ noted, Plaintiff is able to drive, manage her own personal care tasks, shop for food for her children, and prepare simple meals. In social functioning, the ALJ assigned mild difficulties. The ALJ noted that although Plaintiff stated she tried to avoid associating with others, she has never lost a job due to conflicts with supervisors or coworkers, and the consultative psychologist described her manner of relating as fair. With regard to concentration, persistence or pace, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has moderate difficulties based on her self-reports of difficulty paying attention, finishing the tasks she starts, and following written instructions. However, the ALJ noted, Plaintiff is able to follow spoken instructions, watch television, and care for her three young children. As far as episodes of decompensation, the ALJ found no evidence of such incidents in the record.

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff as having the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the exertional requirements of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), including standing or walking about 6 hours in an 8-hour day and sitting about 6 hours in an 8-hour day. However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was limited to occasionally pushing or pulling 20 pounds; occasionally climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and rarely climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. In connection with the limitations caused by her mental impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and tasks; can occasionally interact with coworkers and supervisors; should have little or no contact with the general public; is able to work in a low stress environment (meaning no supervisory duties, no independent decision-making required, no strict production quotas, and minimal changes in work routine and process), and is able to consistently maintain concentration and focus for up to 2 hours at a time. (T.15).

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have any past relevant work (“PRW”). Since leaving high school after completing 8th grade, Plaintiff has worked as a bus attendant, cashier, cook, housekeeper, and laborer. (T.162). Although she posted positive earnings in every year from 1999. through 2012 (the year she alleges she became disabled), those earnings have never been above the SGA threshold, and therefore she does not have any PRW.

         At step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was 29 years-old on the application date with a limited education (she had completed 8th grade). The ALJ relied on the VE's testimony that a person of Plaintiff's age, and with her education, work experience, and RFC, could perform the requirements of the following representative jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy: housekeeper cleaner (Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) Code 323.687-014, unskilled, SVP 2, light exertional level); and small product assembler I (DOT Code 706.684-022, unskilled, SVP 2, light exertional level). There are, respectively, 1.1 million and 368, 669 of these jobs nationally.

         At step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, since the application date.

         SCOPE ...


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