Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Klaasen v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 25, 2018

VICKI B. KLAASEN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 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 Vicki B. Klaasen.

         On 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.

         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 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.

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

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On 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).

         On November 21, 2013, the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's initial application. (AR at pp. 91-101).

         On May 13, 2014, the Administration denied her request for reconsideration. (AR at pp. 103-15).

         Following the denial of Plaintiff's request for reconsideration, she sought a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (AR at p. 125).

         On November 17, 2015, an ALJ conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 38-89).

         On January 7, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application. (AR at pp. 12-22).

         Plaintiff 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).

         On July 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).

         On October 11, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a briefing schedule. (ECF No. 10).

         On December 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S OPENING BRIEF. (ECF No. 11).

         On February 7, 2018, the Defendant filed DEFENDANT'S ANSWERING BRIEF. (ECF No. 12).

         On March 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed PLAINTIFF'S REPLY BRIEF. (ECF No. 13).

         On April 9, 2018, 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 61 year-old female. (Administrative Record (“AR”) at p. 20, ECF No. 9).

         From 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 p. 48).

         Plaintiff's 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).

         Following 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.)

         Plaintiff 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. (Id.)

         Plaintiff's Medical History

         In 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. (Id.)

         Seven 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.)

         Plaintiff 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. 382).

         At her 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).

         In 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.)

         Plaintiff's physicians recommended shoulder replacement but Plaintiff declined surgery. (Id. at pp. 381-84, 411, 431).

         The Social Security Administration's Review of Plaintiff's January 2013 Application For Disability Benefits

         Plaintiff's 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).

         Following 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).

         On 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         The ALJ 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).

         The ALJ 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).

         The ALJ 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).

         The 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 p. 21).

         The ALJ 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).

         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. 1-3).

         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 Work History Prior to Her Alleged On-Set Date of Disability on September 12, 2010

         From 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. 48).

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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 as follows:

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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.