United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ROCHELLE N. KAWELO, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW
Derrick K. Watson United States District Judge
Rochelle Kawelo brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to review a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security, Carolyn C. Colvin (the
“Commissioner”), which denied Kawelo’s
application for disability insurance benefits based upon the
finding that she was not disabled. At issue is whether the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) was required to
reconcile any conflicts between vocational expert testimony
and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”); whether the ALJ correctly classified
Kawelo’s past work; and whether the ALJ properly
weighed the medical opinion of the consultative psychological
examiner, Dennis Donovan, Ph.D. After carefully reviewing the
record, the Court concludes that the ALJ correctly determined
that Kawelo was not disabled at Step 4 of the five-step
sequential evaluation process. Because the ALJ’s
decision was supported by substantial evidence and was not
legally erroneous, the Court affirms the ALJ’s January
23, 2014 decision.
worked for 39 years at First Hawaiian Bank, until she retired
for health reasons in 2008. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 42, 47. During her employment with the
bank, she worked as a bookkeeper, teller, customer service
representative and loan officer. AR 42. She claims that her
job increased in difficulty due to changes in procedures
after September 11, 2001, and then magnified following a
stroke she suffered in 2004. AR 44-47. According to Kawelo,
her memory was impaired after her stroke, which made
“learning the new federal guidelines and compliance
standards, meeting datelines and things of that nature . . .
much more stressful.” Opening Br. at 6. After leaving
her job at the bank, she applied for a bookkeeping position
at Zippy’s Restaurant, but did not get the job. AR 44.
Thereafter, she did bookkeeping work for her husband’s
business for ten hours per week until sometime in 2011, when
that work also became too stressful for her. AR 44-45, 56.
filed for benefits on January 23, 2012. She was referred to
the consulting psychological examiner, Dr. Donovan, for
evaluation on August 3, 2012. AR 382-87. Her claim was
initially denied on August 6, 2012, and subsequently denied
upon reconsideration on June 19, 2013. AR 25. Kawelo
requested a hearing, which the ALJ convened via video
conference on December 2, 2013. AR 20, 25. Participating at
the hearing were Kawelo and her attorney, and Vocational
Expert (“VE”) Thomas Sartoris. AR 25.
hearing, the ALJ questioned the VE and Kawelo regarding her
past work. The ALJ first requested the VE to classify
Kawelo’s past work at the bank:
ALJ: All right, Mr. Sartoris, the only past work - actually,
let me ask you a question. My question, before we - the only
past work that I see - I’m going to ask you to classify
the past work, and then I’m going to ask you a question
about the bookkeeping that the, that the claimant performed.
So the past work as a - in the bank - for the bank, could you
classify that for us?
VE: Yes. I, I do have a question. Did - I, I thought I heard
her say she did bookkeeping tasks for the bank as well.
ALJ: That’s correct.
ALJ: That’s what I have. Yep.
VE: Okay. So, I have three different positions that
I’ll use for the overall work at the bank. One would be
a customer service representative for financial institutions,
DOT code 205.362-026, that’s at an SVP: 6,
exertional level classified as light. Second position is loan
officer, DOT code 241.367-018, that’s at an
SVP: 6, exertional level sedentary. And then the third
position would be bookkeeper, DOT code
21-.382014, that is as, as - let me start over. That is at
an SVP: 6, exertional level sedentary.
AR 55-56. The ALJ then questioned the VE about the job duties
of these three positions and presented him with hypothetical
ALJ: . . . I’m going to ask you to assume an individual
the claimant’s age, education, and past work
who’s able to lift and carry 10 pounds frequently, 20
pounds, occasionally; can sit for six hours in an eight-hour
day, stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour day; can never
climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds; can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl; can perform
frequent gross and fine activities with the left upper
extremity; and should avoid heights and other hazards. Is
such an individual able to perform the claimant’s past
VE: Yes, Your Honor. Let me ask you the last environmental -
avoid heights and what was the other?
ALJ: Other hazards, such as machinery?
VE: Oh, okay.
ALJ: Now, I’m going to, I’m going to add to the
hypothetical that the individual would need a cane to walk.
So, my question is, with this additional limitation, can such
an individual perform the claimant’s past work?
VE: Okay. The only reason I’m hesitating is that - is
the, the definitions of the job duties would not interfere
with the person using a cane. Knowing what I know about
banks, and I’m varying from the DOT, I
don’t know if she had to lift and carry any bags of
coins or things where she would be using one arm to carry and
using the cane in the other upper extremity. That, that
wouldn’t impact documents and things of that nature,
but it may impact, again, if she were lifting boxes of coins,
or bags of coins, or something like that.
. . . .
ALJ: Let me ask you, Ms. Kawelo, when you were the customer
service rep for the bank, did you have to do any lifting of
the type that Mr. Sartoris is talking about?
CLAIMANT: Yes, I did. There was times where I was also a, a
second party for dual control to go into the vault, and we
had to lift bag of coins [sic], and I was also - I also had
access to safe - to opening safety deposit boxes for
customers, and many of them is elderly [sic], and we used to
have to lift the boxes for them[.]
then queried Kawelo about when she performed each of her
positions at the bank as a customer service representative,
loan officer, and bookkeeper. Kawelo’s responses
appeared to show some overlap in her responsibilities:
ALJ: When you did the job of loan officer, did you also have
to access the - was this - did you have to lift that weight
or carry those things?
CLAIMANT: You know, when I was a CSR and a loan officer at
the same time, I would say yes, because there was many times
where I would have been interrupted, or if I didn’t
have a customer and I would have to assist the supervisor to
go to the vault to get cash money or coins for the tellers.
There was many a times that I had to do that job as well.
ALJ: When you - did you say - CLAIMANT: But, you see,
I’m working out in the branches, so the branches are a
lot smaller than working at a huge bank where they have
people doing all those different jobs.
. . . .
ALJ: - when you - did you was it ever that you did - now -
that you did just the job of loan officer? That was it?
CLAIMANT: Say that again? I didn’t understand.
ALJ: Was there ever a circumstance when you did just the job
of loan officer? It sounds like what you’re saying is
that you did, like, a combination of all these duties.
CLAIMANT: Exactly. I did. As a loan -
ALJ: And -
CLAIMANT: - officer, yes, there was a time where I could just
be able to sit at my desk, take in loan applications, speak
with the customers, and do what I needed to do for a loan.
ALJ: Now, how long did you do that, where that was all you
did, which is loan officer job?
CLAIMANT: Well, it came with the job title. With the CSR, we
- you know, the bank - like I said, the bank had changed, so
being a CSR, we had to do both. We had to [do] loan
applications, be a loan officer, as well as be a CSR and open
bank accounts for customers. We had to do it all. It
wasn’t just -
ALJ: Was there -
CLAIMANT: - specifically just a loan officer and a CSR. We
had to do it - it was part of my job to do it all.
ALJ: Okay. So, there was - it sounds like there was never a
time - I mean, there, there may have been, there may have
been a day or a couple of days in a row, where all you did
was loan officer.
ALJ: But -
ALJ: - you - at, at any time, you could be called upon to do
ALJ: - the customer service work as well. Is that -
ALJ: - right?
ALJ: What about bookkeeper? Did you - was there a time when
that’s all you did was the bookkeeping job?
CLAIMANT: Well, when I worked as a bookkeeper - when I first
started with the bank, I was a bookkeeper as well, and that
was really different, because you’re on the operational
side, and that, that involved a lot of paperwork and
balancing of GL accounts, and balancing on the accounting
side. And as a bookkeeper as well, sometimes, if you had the
mini-vault in the back of your area where you’re at,