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Hiibel v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 3, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Respondent.


CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.


Before the Court is Petitioner Nathan Dale Hiibel's Petition for Review, filed April 8, 2013, challenging the Respondent's denial of social security benefits. (Dkt. 1.) The Court has reviewed the Petition, Respondent's Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record (AR)[1], and for the reasons that follow, will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.


Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on June 29, 2010, and an application for Supplemental Security Income on June 30, 2010. In both applications, Petitioner claimed total disability due to a bulging disc, asthma, and thyroid problems. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on November 4, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Douglas S. Stults. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision on March 8, 2012, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on February 6, 2013.

Petitioner appealed this final decision to the Court. The Court has jurisdiction to review the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

At the time of the hearing, Petitioner was forty-two years of age. Petitioner has an eighth grade education and prior work experience as a truck driver.


The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, it must be determined whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found Petitioner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of December 1, 2009. At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's disorders of the lumbar spine (discogenic and degenerative), asthma, hypothyroidism, and obesity severe within the meaning of the Regulations.

Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairments, specifically listings 1.00 (musculoskeletal system), 1.04 (disorders of the spine), 3.00 (respiratory system), 3.03 (asthma), and 9.00 (endocrine disorders). If a claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a listing, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine, at step four, whether the claimant has demonstrated an inability to perform past relevant work. The ALJ found Petitioner was not able to perform his past relevant work as a truck driver.

If a claimant demonstrates an inability to perform past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate, at step five, that the claimant retains the capacity to make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant levels in the national economy, after considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience.

At this step, the ALJ determined that Petitioner retained the RFC to perform sedentary work subject to a variety of functional limitations. For example, the ALJ found Petitioner can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, and stoop; but he can never kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. In addition, the ALJ found Petitioner must avoid exposure to vibration; irritants, such as dusts, fumes, smoke, gases, and poor ventilation; high humidity and wetness; and temperatures of 80 degrees or more and 60 degrees or less. The ALJ also noted that Petitioner's pain and symptomology limited him to sitting for about 30 minutes before having to stand at a workstation for less than 5 minutes, possibly resulting in a 10% reduction in pace and production from that of an average employee.

The ALJ initially relied on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines and found that Petitioner's ability to perform all or substantially all of the requirements of sedentary work was impeded by the limitations noted above. To determine the extent to which Petitioner's additional limitations erode the sedentary occupational base, the ALJ relied on a vocational expert. The vocational expert testified that, even with his limitations, Petitioner could perform the following occupations: call out operator, ...

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