United States District Court, D. Hawaii
VICKI B. KLAASEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY
Gillmor United States District Judge.
case involves the appeal of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's denial of Disability
Insurance Benefits to Plaintiff Vicki B. Klaasen.
January 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for
Disability Insurance Benefits pursuant to Title II of the
Social Security Act. Plaintiff claims that she has been
disabled since September 12, 2010, because of conditions
affecting her shoulders, back, and left hip.
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 September 12, 2010
through December 31, 2014, the date she was last insured. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of
the ALJ's decision and Plaintiff appealed to this Court.
Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Social
Security Administration Commissioner.
January 30, 2013, Plaintiff Vicki B. Klaasen filed an
application for Disability Insurance Benefits with the Social
Security Administration. (Administrative Record
(“AR”) at pp. 12, 223-28, ECF No. 9).
November 21, 2013, the Social Security Administration denied
Plaintiff's initial application. (AR at pp. 91-101).
13, 2014, the Administration denied her request for
reconsideration. (AR at pp. 103-15).
the denial of Plaintiff's request for reconsideration,
she sought a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (AR at p. 125).
November 17, 2015, an ALJ conducted a hearing on
Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 38-89).
January 7, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 12-22).
sought review by the Appeals Council for the Social Security
Administration. The Appeals Council denied further review of
Plaintiff's application on June 19, 2017, rendering the
ALJ's decision as the final administrative decision by
the Commissioner of Social Security. (AR at pp. 1-8).
5, 2017, 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).
October 11, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a briefing
schedule. (ECF No. 10).
December 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S OPENING
BRIEF. (ECF No. 11).
February 7, 2018, the Defendant filed DEFENDANT'S
ANSWERING BRIEF. (ECF No. 12).
March 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S REPLY BRIEF.
(ECF No. 13).
April 9, 2018, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiff's
appeal of the decision of the Social Security Administration
is a 61 year-old female. (Administrative Record
(“AR”) at p. 20, ECF No. 9).
June 1996 to September 2007, Plaintiff worked as a Territory
and Project Manager in construction projects in Alaska.
(Id. at pp. 100-01, 243). Plaintiff testified that
she went through a training program with Exxon Mobile and
worked in various places throughout Alaska. (Id. at
most recent employment occurred in 2010. (Id. at pp.
41-42). Plaintiff worked for six months as a Mechanical
Inspector on an Army Base in Alaska. (Id. at pp.
43-44). Plaintiff inspected the mechanical systems in the
construction project, mostly HVAC and air systems including
hydrostatic testing. (Id. at pp. 44-46). Plaintiff
explained that the position required her to be out in the
field. (Id. at pp. 47-48). Plaintiff's
inspection duties of the construction sites required her to
climb ladders, crawl under ducts, and manually inspect that
the installation of materials matched the blueprints and
specifications. (Id. at pp. 45-48).
her employment as a Mechanical Inspector, Plaintiff worked
for sixty days as a Project Manager for a construction
project. (Id. at pp. 41-42) Plaintiff explained that
her duties were to keep the construction project on schedule,
inspect the work, and manage subcontractors. (Id.)
stated that she stopped working at her last position because
she was on probation for sixty days and the employer
terminated her employment following the probationary period.
(Id. at p. 52). Plaintiff testified that she had not
worked in nearly five years. (Id. at p. 54). She
testified that she suffered from pain in her shoulders and
hip that made it difficult to work. (Id. at pp.
54-57). Plaintiff also testified that she has back pain,
numbness in her legs, and has trouble sleeping.
2001, Plaintiff had an arthroscopic repair of her right hip
labrum. (AR at p. 382, ECF No. 9). In 2002, Plaintiff had an
arthroscopic repair of her right shoulder labrum.
years later, in April 2009, Plaintiff was diagnosed with
degenerative joint disease in her right shoulder.
(Id. at p. 355). Plaintiff was treated with steroid
injections in her right shoulder to allow her to travel on a
European vacation without pain. (Id.)
did not seek follow-up treatment until January 29, 2013, the
day before she first applied for Social Security Disability
Benefits. Her first follow-up treatment was nearly four years
since her last doctor's appointment and almost three
years after she stopped working in 2010. (Id. at p.
follow-up appointments, Plaintiff reported shoulder, hip, and
back pain to her treating physicians from January 2013
through December 2014. (Id. at pp. 360-413, 431).
March 2015, Plaintiff consulted a physician in Hawaii for her
ongoing pain and numbness complaints because she was living
part-time in Alaska and part-time in Hawaii. (Id. at
p. 415). The physician found some evidence of joint disease
and pinched nerves in Plaintiff's spine. (Id.)
physicians recommended shoulder replacement but Plaintiff
declined surgery. (Id. at pp. 381-84, 411, 431).
Social Security Administration's Review of
Plaintiff's January 2013 Application For Disability
January 30, 2013 application for Social Security
Administration Disability Insurance Benefits was initially
denied on November 21, 2013. (AR at p. 12, ECF No. 9).
the initial denial, Plaintiff moved for reconsideration.
(Id. at p. 121). On May 14, 2014, the Social
Security Administration denied Plaintiff's motion for
reconsideration. (Id. at pp. 103-15). On July 22,
2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at pp. 125-26).
November 17, 2015, a hearing on Plaintiff's application
for Social Security Administration Disability Benefits was
held before an ALJ. (Id. at pp. 38-89). The ALJ
denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance
Benefits. (Id. at pp. 12-22).
claimed that she was disabled for a continuous period
following September 12, 2010, due to degenerative joint
disease to her right and left shoulders; degenerative lumbar
disc disease; and degenerative joint disease to her left hip.
(Id. at p. 14).
found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526. (AR at p. 15, ECF No. 9).
determined that Plaintiff's medical impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause her alleged symptoms of
shoulder, back, and leg pain, but her statements concerning
the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the
symptoms was not credible. (Id. at pp. 16-20).
agreed with Plaintiff that she was not capable of performing
her past relevant work as a Project Manager and Mechanical
Inspector but was not precluded from working at all.
(Id. at p. 20).
Administrative Law Judge determined that Plaintiff was
classified as “advanced age” at the time of the
hearing based on the Social Security Administration
regulations, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563. (AR at p. 20, ECF No.
9). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff acquired work skills
from her past relevant work and found that the work skills
were transferable to other occupations with jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. (Id. at
found that there was work that existed in significant numbers
in the economy that Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at
pp. 21-22). The Administrative Law Judge relied on the
testimony of a vocational expert to find that someone with
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity could perform
work as a Material Lister. (Id. at p. 21).
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. 1-3).
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).
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).
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).
Plaintiff's Work History Prior to Her Alleged On-Set Date
of Disability on September 12, 2010
June 1996 to September 2007, Plaintiff worked as a Territory
and Project Manager in construction projects in Alaska. (AR
at pp. 100-01, 243, ECF No. 9). Plaintiff went through a
training program with Exxon Mobile and worked on different
construction projects throughout Alaska. (Id. at p.
testified that she was most recently employed by Johnson
Controls as a Project Manager for sixty days in 2010.
(Id. at pp. 41-42). Plaintiff did not know the exact
dates of her employment, but testified she worked on a
probationary period after which she was terminated.
(Id. at pp. 41, 50). Plaintiff explained that she
had pain in her shoulders, back, and legs when she worked at
Johnson Controls but it did not prevent her from working and
it was not the reason for her termination. (Id. at
pp. 50-52). Plaintiff stated that after the sixty-day
probationary period the company “fired” her.
(Id. at p. 52).
explained that before Johnson Controls she worked for six
months as a Mechanical Inspector on an Army base in Alaska.
(Id. at p. 45). Plaintiff described her job duties
So we're building a facility for an F-16 fighter plane
and there are a couple of construction trailers. One of them
has the management folks in them. The construction trailer I
was in had the inspectors. There was a electrical inspector,
mechanical inspector which ...