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Noyes v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

January 25, 2017

JUDY DIANE NOYES, 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 Judy Diane Noyes.

         On October 23, 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 October 23, 2012 because of a rotator cuff tear in her right shoulder.

         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 October 23, 2012. 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 October 23, 2012, Plaintiff Judy Diane Noyes filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits with the Social Security Administration. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at 175-76, 256-57, ECF No. 11).

         On April 3, 2013, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's initial application. (AR at pp. 110-13).

         On August 21, 2013, the Administration denied her request for reconsideration. (AR at pp. 115-19).

         Following the denial of Plaintiff's request for reconsideration, she sought a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On July 15, 2014, an ALJ conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 32-81). On November 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 13-31).

         Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council for the Social Security Administration. (AR at pp. 11-12). The Appeals Council denied further review of Plaintiff's application on April 15, 2016, rendering the ALJ's decision as the final administrative decision by the Commissioner of Social Security. (AR at pp. 1-4).

         On May 20, 2016, 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 Benefits Determinations, ECF No. 1).

         On August 4, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a briefing schedule. (ECF No. 15).

         On September 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S OPENING BRIEF. (ECF No. 16).

         On November 14, 2016, Defendant filed DEFENDANT'S ANSWERING BRIEF. (ECF No. 17).

         On November 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S REPLY BRIEF. (ECF No. 18).

         On January 9, 2017, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiff's appeal of the decision of the Social Security Administration Commissioner.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's Work History

         Plaintiff is a 55 year-old female. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at p. 175, ECF No. 11). Plaintiff worked for approximately thirty years as a registered nurse in neonatal intensive care units (“NICU”). Plaintiff worked between October 1986 and October 2005 at Children's Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Id. at p. 265). From January 2006 until November 2012, Plaintiff was employed as a registered nurse in the NICU at Kapiolani Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Id. at pp. 190, 204, 215-16, 265).

         Plaintiff's Right Shoulder Injury and Treatment

         In September 2009, Plaintiff injured her right shoulder at the gym. (AR at pp. 21, 282, 285, ECF No. 11). Plaintiff did not seek medical treatment for the injury for more than three years.

         On October 15, 2012, Plaintiff sought treatment for the first time for her right shoulder injury. Plaintiff was examined by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Elizabeth M. Ignacio. (Id. at p. 285). A magnetic resonance imagining (“MRI”) of Plaintiff's right shoulder was conducted two days later on October 17, 2012. (Id. at p. 326).

         Following receipt of the MRI results, on October 22, 2012, Plaintiff was examined a second time by Dr. Ignacio. (Id. at p. 288). Dr. Ignacio informed Plaintiff that the MRI revealed that Plaintiff's right shoulder had a massive rotator cuff tear with evidence of fatty degeneration atrophy.[1] (Id. at p. 289). Dr. Ignacio concluded that the damage to Plaintiff's rotator cuff was not reparable. (Id.)

         The following day, on October 23, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Benefits Insurance with the Social Security Administration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423. (AR at pp. 16, 241, ECF No. 11).

         A week later, on October 30, 2012, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Jay Marumoto for a second opinion as to the diagnosis of her rotator cuff tear. (Id. at pp. 282-83). Dr. Marumoto agreed that Plaintiff had a massive rotator cuff tear. (Id. at p. 283). Dr. Marumoto concluded that operative repair or reconstruction of Plaintiff's right shoulder was not a recommended treatment. (Id. at p. 283). Dr. Marumoto referred Plaintiff to physical therapy to improve strength and decrease pain in her right shoulder. (Id.)

         On November 7, 2012, Plaintiff was evaluated for a third time by Dr. Ignacio. (Id. at pp. 290-91). Dr. Ignacio agreed with Dr. Marumoto that Plaintiff's right rotator cuff was not reparable by surgery. (Id. at p. 291). Dr. Ignacio advised Plaintiff that the pain and weakness in her right shoulder may prevent her from performing her work as a nurse in the NICU. (Id.)

         The same date, November 7, 2012, Plaintiff resigned from her position as a NICU nurse. (Id. at pp. 37, 175, 231). Plaintiff ended her employment because her right shoulder weakness prevented her from picking up babies, from performing CPR, and from moving medical equipment. (Id. at pp. 37-38).

         On November 16, 2012, Plaintiff sought physical therapy for her right shoulder based upon the recommendation of Dr. Marumoto. (Id. at pp. 309-10). Plaintiff believed that physical therapy would not assist her and she did not seek further treatment. (Id. at p. 40).

         The Social Security Administration's Review of Plaintiff's October 2012 Application For Disability Benefits

         Plaintiff's October 23, 2012 application for Disability Insurance Benefits was denied on April 3, 2013. (AR at pp. 110-13, ECF No. 11).

         Following the initial denial, Plaintiff moved for reconsideration. (Id. at p. 114). On April 15, 2013, Plaintiff was evaluated for a fourth time by Dr. Ignacio in support of her motion for reconsideration. (Id. at pp. 302- 03). Dr. Ignacio concluded that Plaintiff continued to have a massive rotator cuff tear and pain in her right shoulder. (Id.) For the first time, Dr. Ignacio prescribed pain medications for Plaintiff. (Id. at pp. 267, 319).

         On August 21, 2013, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. (Id. at pp. 115-19).

         On September 30, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at p. 120).

         Before the administrative hearing, nearly a year after her last examination, Plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. Ignacio for a fifth time on March 13, 2014. (Id. at pp. 314-15). Dr. Ignacio determined that Plaintiff's right shoulder pain “remained the same” and prescribed additional medications. (Id. at p. 315).

         On July 15, 2014, a hearing on Plaintiff's application for Disability Benefits was held before an ALJ. (Id. at pp. 32-81).

         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. (AR at pp. 16-27, ECF No. 11). 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, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had acquired quarters of coverage that will last until December 31, 2017. (AR at p. 16, ECF No. 11).

         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, the ALJ examined if Plaintiff suffered from a disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423(d).

         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 claims that she has been disabled for a continuous period starting on October 23, 2012, due to her right shoulder injury. (AR at pp. 223-231, 241, ECF No. 11).

         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 following her alleged onset date of disability of October 23, 2012. (Id. at p. 26).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not capable of performing her past relevant work as a registered nurse. (Id. at p. 23). The Administrative Law Judge found, however, that there was work that existed in significant numbers in the economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at pp. 23-26). 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 Usher, Barker, or Furniture Rental Consultant. (Id. at pp. 24-26).

         Plaintiff sought review of the Administrative Law Judge's decision with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council declined Plaintiff's request for review and rendered the ALJ's decision as the final administrative decision by the Commissioner of Social Security. (Id. at pp. 1-4).

         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 ...


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