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Copeland v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

November 17, 2014

PATSY OHEA COPELAND, Plaintiff--Appellant,

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

For Patsy Ohea Copeland, Plaintiff - Appellant: David F. Chermol, Chermol & Fishman, L.L.C., Philadelphia, PA.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant - Appellee: Simone Pereira Cain, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel Region VI, Dallas, TX.

Before STEWART, Chief Judge, and WIENER and COSTA, Circuit Judges.


Page 921

CARL E. STEWART, Chief Judge:

Plaintiff-Appellant Patsy Copeland brought this action under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's administrative decision that Copeland is not disabled as defined by the Act. Specifically, the Commissioner found that Copeland was not entitled to disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3). The district court dismissed Copeland's complaint. For the reasons stated herein, we VACATE and REMAND.


Copeland filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits on November 16, 2009, alleging

Page 922

disability due to knee, back, shoulder and heart impairments beginning October 14, 2009. These applications were denied. On March 23, 2011, her claims were presented at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Copeland and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing.

Copeland testified that she had worked as a home health aide " for a while" before quitting her job in October 2009. She stated that she had constant pain in her back, right hip and leg, and the left side of her neck, which were aggravated by movement. She testified that she could not work due to the pain from these conditions. She acknowledged, however, that her medications helped with the pain. She said she could walk for half a block, sit for one hour, stand for 30 minutes, and regularly lift and carry up to 10 pounds, as that was the weight of her purse. She also said she could lift a gallon of milk, but that she occasionally lost her grip when grasping a milk container. She testified that she spent about half her day lying down, and generally rode a cart to the grocery store. Recently, her physician's assistant directed her to walk with a cane in order to put less weight on her leg. She said that her doctor never mentioned surgery for her conditions.

In addition to providing testimony at the hearing, Copeland reported a long history of working as a home health aide, which entailed housekeeping services for her patients, including dusting, mopping, vacuuming, and laundry. In a disability report, she reported very low earnings, ranging from $86.40 to $4,719.38 per year ($7.20 to $393.28 per month). Two separate agency vocational consultants, Melinda Garza and TJ Snyder, reviewed the record and submitted Sequential Vocational Guide reports indicating there was evidence of past relevant work.

The VE testified that the work Copeland had primarily done in the past 15 years had been that of a home health attendant, which the VE characterized as " lower level semi-skilled" work with a vocational preparation level of 3. She called the job a medium exertional level job as generally performed in the national economy. The ALJ directed the VE to imagine a hypothetical individual of Copeland's age, education, and work experience, who was able to do the full range of light exertional-level work including occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling but excluding the climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffoldings. The ALJ asked whether such an individual would be able to perform the job of home health aide. The VE responded that the individual could perform Copeland's past work as a home health attendant as she had actually performed the job.

The ALJ found that Copeland had failed to prove she was disabled within the meaning of the Act.[1] He found that Copeland retained the residual functional capacity for the performance of a wide range of light work activities, except she could only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs, and she could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. With this capacity, the ALJ found that Copeland's past relevant work included " home health attendant" and that she could return to this position as she ...

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