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Butler v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

November 16, 2016

KENDA J. BUTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Social Security Administration Commissioner, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER

          Helen Gillmor United States District Judge.

         This case involves the appeal of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of Disability Insurance Benefits to Plaintiff Kenda J. Butler.

         On March 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff claimed that she has been disabled since June 15, 2010 because of conditions affecting her spinal column.

         The Social Security Administration denied her application. Following an administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held that Plaintiff was not disabled for a continuous period of at least 12 months following her onset disability date of June 15, 2010. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and Plaintiff appealed to this Court.

         The Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Social Security Administration Commissioner.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 26, 2012, Plaintiff Kenda J. Butler filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits with the Social Security Administration. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at 182-190, ECF No. 12).

         On October 9, 2012, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's initial application and on August 15, 2013, they denied her request for reconsideration. (AR at pp. 125-28, 132-37).

         Following the denial of Plaintiff's request for reconsideration, she sought a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On February 24, 2014, an ALJ conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 50-96). On April 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application. (ECF No. 29-43).

         Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council for the Social Security Administration. (AR at pp. 8-28). The Appeals Council denied further review of Plaintiff's application on September 29, 2015, rendering the ALJ's decision as the final administrative decision by the Commissioner of Social Security. (AR at pp. 2-4).

         On November 5, 2015, Plaintiff sought judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision to deny her application for Disability Benefits in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Complaint for Review of Social Security Disability Insurance Determination, ECF No. 1).

         On March 3, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a briefing schedule. (ECF No. 13).

         On May 31, 2016, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S OPENING BRIEF. (ECF No. 14).

         On July 13, 2016, Defendant filed DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR FIRST EXTENSION OF 35 DAYS TO FILE THE ANSWERING BRIEF. (ECF No. 16).

         On July 15, 2016, the Magistrate Judge granted Defendant's Motion for First Extension to File the Answering Brief. (ECF No. 17). The Magistrate Judge also granted Plaintiff an extension of time to file her Reply brief. (Id.)

         On August 22, 2016, Defendant filed DEFENDANT'S ANSWERING BRIEF. (ECF No. 18).

         On September 1, 2016, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S REPLY BRIEF. (ECF No. 19).

         On October 11, 2016, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiff's appeal of the decision of the Social Security Administration Commissioner. (ECF No. 21).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's Work History Between 2001 And 2007

         Plaintiff is a 34 year-old female. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at p. 184, ECF No. 12). Plaintiff is a high school graduate. (Id. at p. 53). Between 2001 and 2007, Plaintiff worked in various positions including restaurant work at Little Caesar's Pizza, conducting telephone surveys for a telemarketing company, teaching day care at a religious institution, clerical work with a staffing agency, and as an administrative assistant for a church. (Id. at pp. 53-55).

         Plaintiff stopped working in 2007 to take care of her children. (Id. at p. 56). Plaintiff is married and resides with her husband and their two minor children. (Id. at pp. 37, 185). At the time of the 2014 administrative hearing, Plaintiff's children were aged six and four. (Id. at p. 37).

         Plaintiff testified that she homeschooled her six year-old child. (Id. at pp. 68-69). Her four year-old child was not of school age at the time of her administrative hearing. (Id. at p. 68).

         Plaintiff's June 2010 Surgery

         In June 2010, Plaintiff had surgery due to medical conditions that caused part of her brain to protrude into her spinal column. (Id. at pp. 325, 379-381). Plaintiff's conditions caused her to have double vision, headaches, dizziness, eye twitching, and muscular weakness on the right side of her body. (Id. at pp. 303-305).

         Following the surgery, Plaintiff's conditions improved but she claimed that she still suffered from headaches, eye twitching, double vision, and some right-weakness. (Id. at pp. 58-59).

         Plaintiff's March 2012 Application For Social Security Disability Benefits

         Nineteen months after her surgery, on March 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423. (AR at pp. 98-111, 184-90, ECF No. 12).

         Plaintiff's application was denied and reconsideration was denied by the Social Security Administration. (Id. at pp. 125-28, 132-37). Following Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at pp. 50-96).

         The ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits, finding that Plaintiff had not met the requirements set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 423. (Id. at pp. 32-43).

         42 U.S.C. § 423 establishes the statutory eligibility requirements which an individual must satisfy to receive a disability insurance benefit pursuant to the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). An individual is eligible to receive disability insurance benefits if the individual:

(A) is insured for disability insurance benefits as determined by 42 U.S.C. § 423(c)(1);
(B) has not attained retirement age;
(C) has filed an application for disability insurance benefits, and,
(D) is under a disability as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A)-(D).

         The ALJ evaluated the four requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1).

         First, the ALJ reviewed if Plaintiff was insured for disability insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423(c)(1). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's earnings record showed that she had made disability insurance coverage payments. Based on Plaintiff's work history between 2001 to 2007, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had acquired quarters of coverage to be insured until December 31, 2012. (AR at p. 32, ECF No. 12).

         Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff fulfilled sections (B) and (C) of Section 423 because she had not reached retirement age at the time of her application and had properly filed an application for disability insurance benefits.

         Finally, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423(d), the ALJ examined Plaintiff's claim that she suffered from a disability before December 31, 2012.[1]

         42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) provides, as follows:

The term “disability” means- 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.

         Plaintiff claimed that she was disabled for a continuous period following June 15, 2010 due to the conditions affecting her spinal cord. (AR at p. 184, ECF NO. 12).

         The Administrative Law Judge determined that Plaintiff failed to establish that she had a disability that lasted or was expected to last at least twelve months between June 15, 2010 and December 31, 2012, the last date by which she was eligible for disability benefits. (Id. at p. 34).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a daycare teacher, telemarketer, and administrative clerk. (Id. at p. 41). The Administrative Law Judge found, in the alternative, that there was also work that existed in significant numbers in the economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at pp. 41-42). The Administrative Law Judge relied on the testimony of a vocational expert to find that someone with Plaintiff's limitations could perform work as an Assembler, Inspector, and Marker. (Id. at p. 42).

         Plaintiff sought review of the Administrative Law Judge's decision with the Appeals Council, which declined Plaintiff's request for review and rendered a final administrative decision by the Commissioner of Social Security. (Id. at pp. 2-4).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A claimant is disabled under the Social Security Act if he or she is unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment 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); see 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).

         A decision by the Commissioner of Social Security must be affirmed by the District Court if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Tylitzki v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 1411, 1413 (9th Cir. 1993).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Plaintiff's History And Claimed Disability

         The Administrative Record reflects that Plaintiff was born in August 1982. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at pp. 54, 354, ECF No. 14). Plaintiff graduated from high school in 2000. (AR at p. 53).

         A. Plaintiff's Employment History From 2001 To 2007

         After graduation from high school, Plaintiff was employed part-time at Little Caesar's Pizza and also worked for a telemarketing company conducting telephone surveys between 2001 and 2002. (AR at pp. 53-54). Plaintiff testified that she also briefly worked with children teaching kindergarten at a religious entity. (AR at p. 54).

         From 2004-2007, Plaintiff worked as an administrative assistant for a church and performed clerical work through a staffing agency. (AR at pp. 54-55).

         Plaintiff testified that she stopped working in 2007 in order to raise ...


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