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Susan T. Callahan v. Michael J. Astrue

October 26, 2011

SUSAN T. CALLAHAN
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Susan T. Callahan ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final decision of Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant"), Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). ECF Dkt. #1. For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision and DISMISSES Plaintiff's complaint in its entirety with prejudice:

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed previous applications for DIB and SSI in 2002, alleging disability since June 29, 1980, her date of birth. ECF Dkt. #11-2 at 10. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied Plaintiff's applications, finding that while Plaintiff had severe mental impairments, which he did not specifically identify, she could nevertheless perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. ECF Dkt. #11-4 at 8. The ALJ did review and mention Listing 12.02 for organic mental disorders, Listing 12.04 for affective disorders, Listing 12.05 for mental retardation, and Listing 12.08 for personality disorders from the Listing of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ("Listings") in his analysis. Id. at 8-9. The ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform work that:

does not impose a closely regimented pace of production. Close regimentation of work activity is a consequence of certain operational demands of a rapid pace or functioning within close tolerances. This might be required when there is a high value placed on a product, the raw materials, the pace of production, or the equipment employed. Close and critical supervision in this context would produce unacceptable stress. This work is different from jobs that allow the employee to determine the timing of different work activities, or to determine the pace of work. The claimant is also unable to address work that imposes intense contact with the public or strangers. Such a position exposes a person to the emotional challenges of strangers who may have a personal response that disturbs sensitive employees. Customers with emergencies or extreme dissatisfaction with service or products can display emotions that make public contact too uncomfortable for the claimant.

Id. at 9. Based upon vocational expert testimony and the RFC that he determined, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs existing in the national economy, including the jobs of commercial cleaner, hand trimmer of plastic parts, and a laundry folder. Id. at 11.

While Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's 2006 decision to the Appeals Council, she filed a new application for DIB and SSI alleging disability beginning June 29, 1980. ECF Dkt. #11-5 at 2. She also filed applications for Child's Insurance Benefits ("CIB"), seeking benefits on the earning records of her mother and father and alleging disability again since birth. ECF Dkt. #11-8 at 16-22.

On October 23, 2006, the SSA denied Plaintiff's applications initially and on reconsideration. ECF Dkt. #11-5 at 6-28. Plaintiff filed a request for hearing before the ALJ and a hearing was held on April 7, 2009. ECF Dkt. #11-3; ECF Dkt. #11-6 at 2-12; ECF Dkt. #11-7. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at the hearing, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified as well. ECF Dkt. #11-6 at 2. The ALJ not only held a hearing on Plaintiff's unfavorable determinations on her SSI and DIB applications, but he escalated her CIB applications in the same hearing and associated them with her SSI and DIB determinations. ECF Dkt. #11-2 at 11.

On April 28, 2009, the ALJ issued a Notice of Decision -- Unfavorable, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. ECF Dkt. #11-2 at 10-21. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council denied the request for review. Id. at 2-9.

On July 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant suit and Defendant thereafter filed an answer. ECF Dkt. #s 1, 10. On December 8, 2010, Plaintiff filed a brief on the merits, and on February 28, 2011, Defendant filed a brief on the merits. ECF Dkt. #s 12, 17. On March 14, 2011, Plaintiff filed a reply brief. ECF Dkt. #18.

II. SUMMARY OF RELEVANT PORTIONS OF THE ALJ'S DECISION

In his decision, the ALJ reviewed the prior ALJ's determination and denied Plaintiff's request to reopen that final decision. ECF Dkt. #11-2 at 10-11. Plaintiff had argued that her recent diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome created a context in which observations of her lifelong disability could be observed, which constituted new and material evidence relating to the prior determination. Id. at 11. The ALJ denied this request, finding that no new and material evidence related to the June 2, 2006 ALJ decision. Id.

However, the ALJ found that since the time period between the prior ALJ's decision and the final date of his decision, Plaintiff had new diagnoses which created a change in circumstances that relieved the ALJ from the final decision of the prior ALJ pursuant to Drummond v. Commissioner of Social Security, 126 F.3d 837 (6th Cir. 1997).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from obesity with complaints of ankle pain, Asperger's Syndrome, and depression, which qualified as severe impairments under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c). ECF Dkt. #11-2 at 15. The ALJ next determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ("Listings"). Id. at 26.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, which included the following limitations: lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sitting for up to six hours per eight-hour workday; and standing and/or walking for up to two hours per workday. ECF Dkt. #11-2 at 16. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff could understand and remember both simple and complex instructions, she could concentrate for two-hour periods over an eight-hour day on simple tasks, and she needed to avoid work with production quotas. Id. He further found that Plaintiff could interact appropriately with co-workers and supervisors and adapt to simple changes in the work setting, but should avoid work requiring frequent contact with the public. Id.

Based on the record and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to work in jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a machine operator, inspector and cleaner. Tr. at 33.

The ALJ also denied Plaintiff's CIB applications based upon the June 2, 2006 unfavorable decision, finding that "as long as that decision is in effect the claimant is not able to establish that she has been continuously disabled since before age 22, i.e. since before June 29, 2002." ECF Dkt. #11-2 at 11. The ALJ indicated that he would issue separate decisions as to each application. Id. III. STEPS TO EVALUATE ENTITLEMENT TO SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

An ALJ must proceed through the required sequential steps for evaluating entitlement to DIB and SSI. These steps are:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be "disabled" regardless of medical findings (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b) (1992));

2. An individual who does not have a "severe impairment" will not be found to be "disabled" (20 C.F.R. ยงยง ...


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