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Bowers v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 12, 2015

BRENDA L. BOWERS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


SHERRY R. FALLON, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff Brenda L. Bowers ("plaintiff" or "Bowers")[1] appeals the decision of Carolyn Colvin, the Commissioner of Social Security ("defendant" or the "Commissioner"), denying her application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g).

Pending before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (D.I. 15, D.I. 18) For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the court GRANT Bowers' motion for summary judgment, DENY defendant's motion for summary judgment, and award benefits to Bowers.


A. Procedural History

On December 28, 2006, Bowers protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). (D.I. 16; Tr. 23, 119-20, 888, 902, 912, 1035) After denial at the prehearing levels (Tr. at 75-88), the case was brought before Administrative Law Judge Judith A. Showalter (the "ALJ") (Tr. at 20-68). On October 28, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Bowers was not disabled. (Tr. at 10-19, 937-46) The Appeals Council subsequently denied Bowers' request for review on June 25, 2010. (Tr. at 2-4) Bowers then brought a civil action in this court challenging the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 950-67)

After consideration of the record, this court issued a decision on August 2, 2012[2] remanding the case for the ALJ to consider:

1) the non-examining State agency opinions, and the residual functional capacity and hypothetical question to the extent they rely upon those opinions; 2) the opinion of Drs. Morris and Lifrak; 3) Plaintiff's mother's statement; 4) the record surrounding Plaintiff's alleged absenteeism from recovery from three abdominal surgeries within a twelve month period, incontinence, and mental decompensation; 5) whether Plaintiffs depression comprises a listed impairment; and 6) whether sufficient jobs that Plaintiff can perform exist in the national economy.

(Tr. at 950-67).

On remand, the ALJ held a new hearing. (Tr. at 910-33) On April 12, 2013, the ALJ issued another decision denying benefits. (Tr. at 888-902) Following the denial of benefits, Bowers again exercised her right to file a civil action with this court. The relevant time period for the present appeal is from December 28, 2006 to October 28, 2009.[3] (Tr. at 888, 970-71)

B. Factual Background[4]

Bowers was born in 1966, and was forty when she filed for SSI. (Tr. at 119) She was a special education student and received a certificate of attendance, but not a high school diploma. (Tr. at 29-30, 153) Bowers worked deboning chickens from 1987 to 1996, and sorted clothes at a dry cleaner from 2000 to 2001. (Tr. at 148) Bowers alleges disability based on diverticulitis and bipolar disorder. (Tr. at 525, 531)

C. The ALJ's Findings from the Second Hearing

Based on the factual evidence and the testimony of Bowers, her mother, and the VE, the AU determined that Bowers was not disabled from December 28, 2006 through October 28, 2009. The ALJ found, in pertinent part, that:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 28, 2006, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: history of abdominal surgeries for diverticulitis, hernia, and hysterectomy; borderline intellectual functioning; depression; tobacco abuse; and obesity (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant 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 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that from December 28, 2006 to October 29, 2009, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant had a high school education and is able to read, write and do simple math, such as add and subtract. She could perform occasional postural maneuvers, but could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; needed to avoid concentrated exposure to moving machinery and heights; and needed to avoid concentrated exposure to odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. In addition, the claimant could perform simple, unskilled work that was not performed at production rate, meaning that it is not paid by the ...

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