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Moody v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

March 28, 2017

PAULETTE ALANE MOODY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER & OPINION

          JOE BILLY McDADE United States Senior District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Paulette Moody's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 8) and Defendant Nancy Berryhill's Motion for Summary Affirmance (Doc. 12). For the reasons explained below, Plaintiff's motion is granted and Defendant's motion is denied. Because the ALJ erred in not assessing Plaintiff's borderline age, his decision is vacated and the matter is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this Order & Opinion.

         I. Procedural Background

         On September 24, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (R. at 9).[2] Plaintiff alleged that her disability began on July 1, 2007. (R. at 9). Plaintiff's date of last insured was June 30, 2011 (R. at 11). The Social Security Administration initially denied Plaintiff's application on November 30, 2012, and did so again on reconsideration on March 15, 2013. (R. at 9). On March 27, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. (R. at 9). On June 11, 2014, the ALJ held a video hearing where the Plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney, and a Vocational Expert both testified. (R. at 9-23).

         On June 26, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled, and thus not eligible for disability insurance benefits. (R. at 23). On September 3, 2015, the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review. (R. at 1-3). In doing so, it made the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff then filed her Complaint (Doc. 1) with this Court on November 3, 2015.

         II. Factual and Medical History

         Plaintiff was born on October 5, 1956. (R. at 21). She was approximately 54 years and 9 months old at the time of her date of last insured.[3] Plaintiff alleges disability because of degenerative disorders in her knees, obesity, and an affective disorder. Because the ALJ sufficiently summarizes and addresses the factual details of Plaintiff's medical history and because they are not pertinent to the Court's Opinion, the Court will not repeat them here. (R. at 9-23).

         Plaintiff alleges disability from significant bilateral knee pain caused by degenerative disorders within her knees and obesity. She also alleges disability caused by an affective disorder, specifically bipolar disorder, which primarily manifested itself as depression. Plaintiff alleges that the combination of impairments significantly limited her ability to engage in work related activity during the period at issue.

         On June 11, 2014, Plaintiff had a hearing before the ALJ. (R. at 28-57). During the hearing, the ALJ sought testimony both from Plaintiff and from a Vocational Expert. (R. at 28-57). On June 26, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (R. at 23). The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments, or combination of impairments, did not met or medically equal 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, and 404.1526).

         Furthermore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform “light” exertional work with some defined limitations. Specifically, the ALJ found:

“After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except that she could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and could perform other postural functions only occasionally; she needed to avoid exposure to environmental hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery; the claimant was limited to the performance of simple and repetitive tasks that involved little or no change in work routine, no interaction with the general public, and occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.”

(R. at 14).

         The ALJ then had to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled or not based on her residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience, in conjunction with the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (“the Grid”). 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App'x 2. (R. at 22). The ALJ determined that on her date of last insured, Plaintiff was “54 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age.” (R. at 21) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d)). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff had completed at least a high school education. (R. at 21). However, the ALJ did not determine the transferability of job skills, because the Grid supported a finding of “not disabled” regardless of if Plaintiff had transferable job skills. (R. at 21).

         Under the Grid, the ALJ found that Plaintiff would be considered “not disabled.” (R. at 22). However, because the Plaintiff had limitations on her functional ability to perform “light” work, the ALJ consulted with a vocational expert to determine whether there would be jobs available in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 22). The vocational expert testified that Plaintiff would be able to perform the occupation of either 1) a maid or housekeeping cleaner or 2) a production-related inspector. (R. at 22). Because there were jobs that Plaintiff could perform, the ALJ determined that a finding of “not disabled” was appropriate and denied Plaintiff's application for disability and disability benefits. (R. at 23).

         III. ...


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