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Ankrom v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 16, 2017

JOAN M ANKROM, Petitioner,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, [1]Respondent.


          Hon. Candy W. Dale, United States Magistrate Judge


         Currently pending before the Court is Joan Ankrom's Petition for Review of the Respondent's denial of social security benefits, filed on January 11, 2016. (Dkt. 1.) The Court has reviewed the Petition for Review and the Answer, the parties' memoranda, and the administrative record (AR), and for the reasons that follow, will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.


         Petitioner filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on November 1, 2010. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held on May 1, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Molleur. After hearing testimony from Petitioner and a vocational expert, ALJ Molleur issued a decision on June 5, 2012, finding Petitioner not disabled. Petitioner timely requested review by the Appeals Council. Because a portion of the hearing transcript was missing, the Appeals Council remanded the matter to the ALJ to conduct another hearing. The second hearing was held on April 3, 2014, at which Petitioner, her husband, and a vocational expert testified. On April 11, 2014, ALJ Molleur issued a decision finding Petitioner not disabled.

         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 on April 3, 2014, Petitioner was fifty-two years of age. Petitioner has a high school education. Her prior work experience includes part-time work in retail, at St. Vincent's thrift store in the book department.


         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 her alleged onset date of July 24, 2006, up through the date last insured of September 30, 2008.

         At step two, it must be determined whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's bipolar disorder and degenerative disc disease severe within the meaning of the Regulations.

         Step three asks whether a claimant's impairments meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found Petitioner's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for the listed impairments, specifically considering Listing 1.04A (spinal disorders) and 12.04 (mental 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. In assessing Petitioner's functional capacity, the ALJ determines whether Petitioner's complaints about the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms are credible.

         Here, the ALJ found Petitioner's complaints about the intensity and persistence of her symptoms not entirely credible. The ALJ found also that the medical source statements of Petitioner's treating physicians and other care providers, who included Ms. Kelli Bermensolo, LCSW; Ms. Heidi Ritchie Lossman, Nurse Practitioner; Ms. Jeanne Melton, LCSW; Dr. Michelle Boyer; Dr. Scott Hoopes; Ms. Mildred Tikker, LCSW; and Ms. Nicole Massari, counselor, little to no weight. The ALJ found the majority of the opinions post-dated the date last insured of September 30, 2008, and were therefore not relevant to Petitioner's condition prior to that date. With regard to Ms. Bermensolo and Ms. Lossman, who treated Petitioner during the relevant time period, the ALJ found the counseling notes did not support their opinions.

         The ALJ determined Petitioner had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, with the exception that she could not climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally reach overhead; not have exposure to unprotected heights and avoid exposure to moving machinery; and she should be limited to brief and superficial contact with the public, frequent contact with supervisors, so long as there was no close coordination with co-workers in a team setting. The ALJ further limited Petitioner to work in a low stress environment, with only occasional decision making or changes in work settings. (AR 21.)

         The ALJ found Petitioner did not have past relevant work, and therefore proceeded to step five. 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 RFC, age, education and work experience. Here, the ALJ found Petitioner retained the ability to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as mail clerk; housekeeper/cleaner; and marker. Consequently, the ALJ determined Petitioner was not disabled.


         Petitioner bears the burden of showing that disability benefits are proper because of the inability “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 also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). An individual will be determined to be disabled only if her physical or mental impairments are of such severity that she not only cannot do her previous work but is unable, ...

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