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Cooper v. Berryhill

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 28, 2017

TAI COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH A. ROBINSON United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Tai Cooper, seeks judicial review of a decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her application for social security disability benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Complaint ¶ 3 (ECF No. 1). This action initially was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for full case management. 08/19/2016 Referral. Upon the consent of the parties, this action subsequently was assigned to the undersigned for all purposes. Notice, Consent, and Reference of a Civil Action to a Magistrate Judge (ECF No. 18).

         Currently pending for determination are Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal (ECF No. 9) and Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance (ECF No. 10). Upon consideration of the motions, the memoranda in support thereof and in opposition thereto, and the entire record herein, the court will grant Plaintiff's motion and deny Defendant's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits. See Administrative Record (“AR”) (ECF No. 6) at 66. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of January 25, 2012. Id. at 66-67. Plaintiff reported that she suffers from “multiple sclerosis, neck, back and shoulder injuries.” Id. at 66. Plaintiff's applications were initially denied by the SSA on September 24, 2012, and were subsequently denied upon reconsideration on April 19, 2013. Id. at 66-74, 75-84.

         Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing, see Id. at 102, and appeared before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 24, 2015, see Id. at 38. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's application on June 17, 2015. See Id. at 21-32. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 25, 2012. Id. at 26. Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: “cervical spine strain, myofascial pain; lumbar spine strain, myofascial pain; left shoulder strain, anterior labral tear with associated para-labral cyst, acromioclavicular joint separation; carpal tunnel syndrome; and obesity[.]” Id. The ALJ held that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1[.]” Id. at 27. Lastly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds, frequently lift and/or carry 10 pounds, stand and/or walk about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, sit for a total of about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, and never climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. She requires the ability to [ ] alternate between sitting and standing at will.

Id.

         The ALJ then found that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform” such that she “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 25, 2012, through the date of this decision[.]” Id. at 31, 32.

         Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council of the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council denied the request for review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision “the final decision of the Commissioner.” Id. at 1. Plaintiff then commenced the instant action.

         STATUTORY FRAMEWORK

         The Social Security Act of 1935 (the “Act”) established a framework to provide “disability insurance benefits” to eligible individuals and “supplemental security income” to individuals who have “attained age 65[, ] . . . are blind[, ] or disabled.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381, 1381a. The Act defines “disability” for non-blind individuals as “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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905. A “disabled” individual is eligible for supplemental security income if he or she meets additional statutory requirements concerning income and resources. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a). The SSA has promulgated regulations, pursuant to the Act, outlining a five-step process for determining disability of adults. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         First, the SSA evaluates whether the claimant is “doing substantial gainful activity.” If so, the agency concludes that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b).

         Second, if the claimant is not engaging in substantial gainful activity, the SSA determines whether the claimant has a “severe medically determinable physical or medical impairment that meets the duration requirement . . . or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration ...


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