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Palmer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

May 15, 2017

VERONICA MAE PALMER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          PAUL D TICKNEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Veronica Mae Palmer (“Plaintiff”) brings this action for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) final decision denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 405(g). For the following reasons, the final decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that she is disabled due to a variety of ailments including hernias, depression, and anxiety. Tr. 70-75, ECF No. 17-3. After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, a hearing was held on November 19, 2014 in Dallas, Texas before administrative law judge Lissette C. Perez (the “ALJ”) pursuant to Plaintiff's request. Tr. 62, ECF No. 17-3. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney, Jeff Sullivan, and also present at the hearing was Vocational Expert, Susan Brooks. Tr. 62, ECF No. 17-3. Plaintiff was born on September 21, 1969, and was 45 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 47 & 62, ECF No. 17-3. Plaintiff has a high school education. Tr. 47, ECF No. 17-3. Plaintiff has worked in the past as a receptionist. Tr. 64 & 86, ECF No. 17-3. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 29, 2013. Tr. 38, ECF No. 17-3.

         The ALJ issued her decision finding that Plaintiff has not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act from the application date of May 29, 2013 through the date of her decision on January 30, 2015. Tr. 48-49, ECF No. 17-3. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and allergic dermatitis. Tr. 38, ECF No. 17-3. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff had the following non-severe physical impairments: (1) multiple hernias status-post hernia repair surgeries and herniorrhaphy pain; (2) ovarian cyst; (3) diffuse fatty liver; (4) obstructive uropathy; (5) kidney stones; and (5) ruptured breast implant. Tr. 38, ECF No. 17-3. The ALJ stated that the evidence showed that these conditions were sporadic, did not last for long periods of time, caused little to no physical restrictions, and did not effect Plaintiff's ability to work. Tr. 38, ECF No. 17-3. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff also had the non-severe mental impairment of substance abuse, but the record indicated that Plaintiff had not used alcohol in years, and although she sporadically used marijuana to treat pain, this use did not result in increased mental restrictions. Tr. 38, ECF No. 17-3.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 38, ECF No. 17-3. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a), but with the following restrictions: (1) occasionally push, pull, operate foot controls, and climb stairs; (2) no scaffolds, ladders, or ropes; (3) frequently stoop, bend, balance, crouch, kneel, and crawl; (4) no exposure to unprotected heights, uneven terrain, concentrated amounts of vibration, extreme temperature changes, hazardous materials, moving machinery, commercial driving, or concentrated levels of humidity, fumes, or dust; (5) perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; (6) no team work; (7) no exposure to the general public; and (8) maintain attention, concentration, persistence, and pace for at least two hours at a time for a total of eight hours. Tr. 41, ECF No. 17-3. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a receptionist, but Plaintiff had the RFC to perform the tasks of the following occupations: (1) addresser; (2) surveillance system monitor; (3) final assembler; and (4) table worker. Tr. 47-48, ECF No. 17-3.

         Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, and on May 24, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request. Tr. 2, ECF No. 17-3. Plaintiff subsequently filed this action in the district court on July 28, 2016. Compl., ECF No. 1.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         A claimant must prove that she is disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act to be entitled to social security benefits. Leggett v. Chater, 67 F.3d 558, 563-64 (5th Cir. 1995); Abshire v. Bowen, 848 F.2d 638, 640 (5th Cir. 1988). The definition of disability under the Act is “the inability 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Anthony v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 289, 292 (5th Cir. 1992).

         The Commissioner utilizes a sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Those steps are that:

(1) an individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found disabled regardless of medical findings;
(2) an individual who does not have a “severe impairment” will not be found to be disabled;
(3) an individual who meets or equals a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of the regulations will be considered disabled without consideration of vocational factors;
(4) if an individual is capable of performing the work the individual has done in the past, a finding of “not disabled” will be made; and (5) if an individual's impairment precludes the individual from performing the work the individual has done in the past, other factors including age, education, past work experience, and residual ...

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