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Hotter v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 24, 2014

YANA L. HOTTER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review, under 28 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), of the final decision of Defendant denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §401, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application.

Facts and Background

Plaintiff was 37 years old at the time of the hearing. Plaintiff has a bachelor's degree and some master's advanced degree work. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of: depression and anxiety, 20 CFR 404.1520(c). At the November 15, 2011 hearing, Plaintiff testified that she has her own business, which is a photography business that she started a little less than a year before the hearing. Plaintiff testified that she started the business because she could not sit home and do nothing. She needed something to do. Plaintiff resides with her husband and seven year old daughter. She is able to care for her daughter, work with her with her homework, and gets her ready for school. Plaintiff loves to cook and makes dinner. She does some housework when she can. Plaintiff's husband works from home, remotely, so he is always in the home. Plaintiff cares for her dogs. She tries to leave the house once per day. She and her husband take their daughter to dance class once per week and attends temple on Saturday mornings. Plaintiff and her family visit her in-laws and they sometimes go out to eat. Plaintiff walks to the store right behind her house. Plaintiff's husband accompanies her on photography jobs, but stays outside while she works. Plaintiff testified that she is in a constant state of agitation, she gets panic attacks at least once per week and has headaches and nausea side effects from her medications. Plaintiff further testified that she is afraid to be alone and is scared to leave the house.

A vocational expert also testified at the hearing. In response to the hypothetical question of whether a person with no exertional limitations, however, a person limited in that they can only have occasional contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the public, the person would be able to perform past work, the VE testified that the person could perform past work as a photographer and business analyst. The VE testified there were jobs available for the Plaintiff in these jobs. In response to the limitation of no more than 40 hours per week, Plaintiff could ot perform the jobs as Plaintiff described them. The vocational expert testified that there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, if the job had a set schedule. The VE testified that if the limitation of having Plaintiff's husband attend work with a person, there would be no jobs in the regional or national economy the person could perform. In response to the question of whether a person could perform light or sedentary work if the person had no useful ability to deal with the public, and no ability to interact with supervisors, there would be no available jobs.

Plaintiff's application for disability income benefits was denied on November 17, 2010. On February 6, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. On March 19, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

Standard For Determining Disability

The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is "unable 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir.2010). The impairment must be "of such severity that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

A five-step regulatory framework is used to determine whether an individual claimant qualifies for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir.2011) (discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in "substantial gainful activity"; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I), 416.920(a)(4)(I); McCoy , 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is "any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities"; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4)(ii), 404.1520©, 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920©; McCoy , 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the ALJ evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "listings"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the ALJ proceeds with the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

Prior to Step Four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"), which is "the most a claimant can do despite [his] limitations." Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir.2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545 (a) (1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4) (iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a) (4) (iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. ... At Step Five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

Through Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of jobs within the national economy. Id. ; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064 (8th Cir.2012).

ALJ Decision

The ALJ utilized the five-step analysis as required in this case. Here the ALJ determined at Step One, that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 17, 2010, the alleged onset date. The ALJ found at Step Two that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of depression and anxiety pursuant to 20 CFR 404.1520©.

At Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments of a severity that meets or medically equals the required severity of a listing as set out in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart ...

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