Hanlin v. Social Security Administration
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER affirming the Commissioner's determination; denying pltf's appeal 2 ; judgment will be entered accordingly. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth Deere on 9/24/13. (vjt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
LISA A. HANLIN
CASE NO.: 4:12CV00411 BD
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner,
Social Security Administration1
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Lisa Hanlin appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”).
For reasons set out below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
On October 16, 2008, Ms. Hanlin protectively filed for SSI, alleging disability
beginning on January 1, 2008, due to an enlarged heart, spina bifida, asthma, and a bad
back. (Tr. 118, 148) Ms. Hanlin’s claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
(Tr. 62, 69) At her request, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on
December 7, 2010, at which Ms. Hanlin appeared with her attorney. (Tr. 18) At the
hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Ms. Hanlin and a vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr.
On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration. She has been substituted for named Defendant
Michael J. Astrue under Fed.R.Civ.P. 25.
The ALJ issued a decision on February 16, 2011, finding that Ms. Hanlin was not
disabled under the Act. (Tr. 9-17) On May 10, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Ms.
Hanlin’s request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s final
decision. (Tr. 1-3)
Ms. Hanlin was 24 years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 34) She had
completed high school and was working two hours a day as a lunch monitor at an
elementary school. (Tr. 22, 24) Between July 2007 and January 2008, Ms. Hanlin
worked as a housekeeper at a hotel, on the cleaning crew at a mall, and in the deli of a
Wal-Mart. (Tr. 175) She left her last job, at the deli, due to a dispute after she fell in a
drain hole at work. (Tr. 23)
Ms. Hanlin smoked half a pack of cigarettes a day and marijuana occasionally.
(Tr. 248) She used a Flovent inhaler every other day for her asthma and took Exedrin for
her pain. (Tr. 27, 28). She put on sunscreen before going outdoors due to an alleged
allergy to sunlight and heat. (Tr. 25) Ms. Hanlin wore a wrist brace to the hearing and
said she sometimes walked with a cane. (Tr. 29, 30)
Ms. Hanlin suffered a bout of depression after she suffered a miscarriage, but
testified at the hearing that it would not interfere with her ability to work. (Tr. 32-33).
She lived with her mother, brother, sister, and her 3-year-old daughter. (Tr. 33). During
a normal day, she would take care of her daughter, do housework, watch television, and
go to the park. (Tr. 42)
Decision of the Administrative Law Judge2
The ALJ found that, although Ms. Hanlin worked part-time, she had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 11) And he
found that Ms. Hanlin had the following severe impairments: spina bifida and depression.
(Tr. 11) The ALJ also found, however, that Ms. Hanlin did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments meeting or equaling an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. § 416.926). (Tr. 11-12)
The ALJ determined that Ms. Hanlin had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform light work, with occasional lifting and carrying up to 20 pounds, and frequent
lifting and carrying of 10 pounds, except she would have to avoid work that required
constant repetitive bending or exposure to sunlight or extreme heat. (Tr. 12-16)
Although Ms. Hanlin had worked, she had not worked at the level of substantial
gainful activity, so she had no past relevant work. (Tr. 16) After considering VE
testimony, the ALJ determined that Ms. Hanlin could perform significant jobs existing in
The ALJ followed the required sequential analysis to determine: (1) whether the
claimant was engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant had a
severe impairment; (3) if so, whether the impairment (or combination of impairments)
met or equaled a listed impairment; and (4) if not, whether the impairment (or
combination of impairments) prevented the claimant from performing past relevant work;
and (5) if so, whether the impairment (or combination of impairments) prevented the
claimant from performing any other jobs available in significant numbers in the national
economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(g) (2005).
the national economy. (Tr. 16-17) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Ms. Hanlin was not
disabled. (Tr. 17)
Plaintiff’s Arguments for Reversal
Ms. Hanlin claims the ALJ’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence
because: (1) the ALJ failed to find that she met Impairment Listings 1.02, 1.05, 12.04,
and 12.06; (2) the ALJ erred in his assessment of Ms. Hanlin’s credibility; (3) the ALJ
failed to consider the combined effects of Ms. Hanlin’s impairments; and (4) the ALJ did
not give proper consideration to Ms. Hanlin’s mental impairments. (#12)
A claimant has the burden of proving that an impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals a Listing. Johnson v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 1067, 1070 (8th
Cir. 2004). “To meet a listing, an impairment must meet all of the listing’s specified
criteria.” Carlson v. Astrue, 604 F.3d 589, 593 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing references
The standard of review in this case is whether there is substantial evidence in the
record as a whole to support the decision. Boettcher v. Astrue, 652 F.3d 860, 863 (8th
Cir. 2011); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “less than a preponderance, but
sufficient for reasonable minds to find it adequate to support the decision.” Id. (citing
Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2005)). In reviewing the record as a
whole, the Court must consider both evidence that detracts from the Commissioner’s
decision and evidence that supports the decision; but, the decision cannot be reversed,
“simply because some evidence may support the opposite conclusion.” Id. (citing Pelkey
v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 575, 578 (8th Cir. 2006)).
Ms. Hanlin argues that she met the requirements of Impairment Listings 1.02 and
1.05, apparently due to an alleged inability to ambulate effectively. (#12, pp. 9-10) There
is no medical evidence indicating that Ms. Hanlin could not ambulate effectively, which
forecloses a finding she met Listing 1.02. Although she testified she occasionally used a
cane, a cane would not limit the functioning of both upper extremities. (Tr. 29) Ms.
Hanlin did not use a walker, two crutches, or two canes. There is also no evidence she
needed companion assistance to travel to and from her part-time employment.
Ms. Hanlin’s citations in support of this claim are to a summary prepared for the
administrative proceedings, not actual medical records. (#12, p. 10, citing Tr. 192 and
193) Regardless, her noted hip pain and a double jointed finger fall far short of meeting
Records show that Ms. Hanlin’s “very slight” spina bifida caused almost no
physical limitations. (Tr. 201-205, 247) She was apparently able to ride a bicycle for
exercise and to travel. (Tr. 27, 170, 252) She could care for her young child and pet
without assistance. (Tr. 145, 148) She cleaned, cooked, did laundry, washed dishes, and
picked-up after her child “everyday and all day.” (Tr. 149) All of this evidence is
inconsistent with Ms. Hanlin’s Listing argument.
Ms. Hanlin has also not shown that she had any amputations that would allow her
to meet Listing 1.05. She has failed to meet her burden to show that she met a single
criterion for Listing 1.05.
It appears the other Listings cited by Ms. Hanlin, Listing 12.04 and 12.06, were
referenced as a result of a typographical error. The Listings are cited once, and there is
no argument or citation to the record in support. (#12, at p. 5) These Listings relate to
mental disorders. As previously noted, Ms. Hanlin testified that her depression would not
interfere with her ability to work. (Tr. 32-33) Ms. Hanlin waived any claim related to
Listings 12.04 and 12.06 by failing to support her Listing argument. See Aulston v.
Astrue, 277 F. App'x 663, 664 (8th Cir. 2008)(declining to consider undeveloped
argument that claimant met the requirements of a particular Listing). Even if she had not
waived this argument, she failed to meet her burden of proving she met an Impairment
Ms. Hanlin argues in passing that the ALJ erred by discrediting her subjective
complaints. (#12, at pp. 10-11) Ms. Hanlin did not cite a single page of the record to
support this argument. (#12) Ms. Hanlin waived this argument by failing to support it.
Regardless, the ALJ gave sufficient reasons for finding Ms. Hanlin’s subjective
complaints not fully credible. (Tr. 12-15)
Effect of Multiple Impairments
Ms. Hanlin claims the ALJ failed to consider the combined effects of her
impairments. Specifically, Ms. Hanlin claims she met a Listing due to the combined
effects of her impairments. (#12, pp. 11-13)
Despite noting that she “must present medical findings equal in severity to all the
criteria for the one most similar listed impairment,” she failed to cite any medical
findings, note how she met the Listing criteria, or even identify the most similar Listing.
(#12, at p. 11) As a result, Ms. Hanlin waived this argument.
The ALJ recognized his obligation to consider the combined effects of Ms.
Hanlin’s impairments. For example, he specifically noted that at step two, a
“combination of impairments” can be severe. (Tr. 10) In fact, the ALJ used the phrase
“combination of impairments” at least seven times. The ALJ noted at step three, a
combination of impairments can meet or equal an Impairment Listing. (Tr. 10) The ALJ
also noted that he must consider all impairments, even impairments that are not severe,
when determining RFC. (Tr. 10) Based on the language and content of the ALJ’s
decision, it appears he adequately considered the combined effects of Ms. Hanlin’s
Ms. Hanlin’s final argument is that the ALJ failed to give proper consideration to
her mental impairments. (#12, pp. 14-16) For support, Ms. Hanlin again cited
exclusively to a summary prepared for the administrative proceedings. (#12, at pp. 14-15,
citing Tr. 194-197)
Ms. Hanlin confirmed that her depression would not interfere with her ability to
perform work. (Tr. 33) She did, however, have some cognitive limitations.
Mr. Hanlin graduated high school, but was always in special education classes.
(Tr. 22) Her intelligence was estimated to be “below average.” (Tr. 248) Evaluations
cited in the administrative summary show that Ms. Hanlin had moderate limitations in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 267) She was also moderately
limited in her social interactions and her ability to adapt. (Tr. 273) These limitations,
however, were consistent with the ability to perform unskilled work. (Tr. 273)
During the administrative hearing, the ALJ limited Ms. Hanlin to unskilled work.
(Tr. 37) The VE provided only unskilled jobs Ms. Hanlin could perform.4 (Tr. 36-37) If
the ALJ erred by omitting the limitation to unskilled work in his decision, this was merely
an error in opinion-writing, as the unskilled limitation was incorporated in the ALJ’s jobs
finding. (Tr. 16-17) An arguable deficiency in opinion-writing is not a sufficient reason
to remand a case when the deficiency had no effect on the outcome. McGinnis v. Chater,
74 F.3d 873, 875 (8th Cir. 1996).
The Court has reviewed all of the evidence in the record. Despite her impairments,
there is sufficient evidence in the record as a whole to support the Commissioner’s
Ms. Hanlin states the “ALJ never presented a hypothetical to the VE.” (#12, at p.
13) This is simply not true. The ALJ clearly presented a hypothetical to the VE. (Tr. 3536) In response to the hypothetical, as noted in the ALJ’s decision, the VE provided jobs
Ms. Hanlin could perform. (Tr. 16, 36-37)
determination that Lisa A. Hanlin retained the residual functional capacity to perform jobs
existing in significant numbers in the economy.
Accordingly, her appeal is DENIED, and the Clerk of Court is directed to close the
case, this 24th day of September, 2013.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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