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FOURSPRINGS v. BARNHART

November 10, 2005.

RICHARD FOURSPRINGS, Plaintiff,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN HOUSTON, Magistrate Judge

ORDER (1) GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; (2) DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND (3) REMANDING THE CASE FOR ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE AND FINDINGS.
INTRODUCTION
Plaintiff Richard Foursprings, through counsel, filed this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to obtain judicial review of a "final decision" of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), denying his claim for disability insurance benefits. Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. After a thorough review of the pleadings filed by the parties, the entire record submitted in this matter, and for the reasons set forth below, this Court DENIES Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, and REMANDS for additional evidence and findings consistent with this Order. BACKGROUND

1. Factual Background

  Plaintiff was born May 5, 1940. A.R.*fn1 at 23. Although the record reflects that Plaintiff attended college and has sixteen years of education, he stated at the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") that he could not remember if he attended college. A.R. at 24. His past relevant work was as a caretaker and general laborer. Id. Plaintiff alleges that he has been disabled since October 30, 1998, due to schizophrenia, diabetes, and fatigue. A.R. at 88.

  2. Procedural Background

  Plaintiff filed his current application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on February 5, 2001, which was denied initially and on reconsideration. A.R. 77-79, 58-61, 63-66. There was a hearing held by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on April 4, 2002. A.R. at 17-38. The ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits on May 9, 2002. A.R. at 8. On January 3, 2003, Plaintiff's request for appellate review was denied. A.R. at 4.

  Plaintiff, through counsel, filed the instant Complaint on February 7, 2003. [Doc. # 1.] Defendant filed an Answer and lodged the Administrative Record with the Court on May 25, 2004. [Doc. # 8-9.] Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on March 21, 2005. [Doc. # 12.] Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on May 17, 2005. [Doc. # 17-18.] See CivLR 7.1.

  3. The ALJ's Decision

  In a written decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments were not severe because they did not impose more than minimal work-related limitations. A.R. at 12. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had never been diagnosed with or treated for diabetes, although Plaintiff claimed to have the condition and claimed to control it with a special diet and daily afternoon naps. Id. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had sought treatment for fatigue symptoms, but that there was no identifiable source of the Plaintiff's fatigue and no specific course of treatment for fatigue had been recommended. A.R. at 12-13. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff had complained of back pain and blackouts during one physical examination, but that the examination was found to be completely normal. A.R. at 13. Regarding Plaintiff's alleged psychiatric problems, the ALJ reviewed conflicting medical opinions, but concluded that all of Plaintiff's impairments, individually or in combination, did not result in more than minimal work-related limitations. A.R. 13-14. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled at step two of the five step sequential process for evaluating whether a person is disabled under the Social Security Act, and therefore not entitled to disability benefits at any time through the date of the ALJ's decision. A.R. at 15.

  DISCUSSION

  1. Standard of Review

  To qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, an applicant must show that: (1) he suffers from a medically determinable impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months; and (2) the impairment renders the applicant incapable of performing the work that he previously performed or any other substantially gainful employment that exists in the national economy. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), (2)(A). An applicant must meet both requirements to be "disabled." Id.

  The Secretary of the Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Step one determines whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If he is, disability benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If he is not, the decision maker proceeds to step two, which determines whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.

  The inquiry at step two of the disability evaluation process, whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments, is a de minimis screening device to dispose of groundless claims. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996), citing Browen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 153-54. "An impairment or combination of impairments can be found not severe only if the evidence establishes a slight abnormality that has no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work." Id. (internal citations omitted). "An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it does not significantly limit your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). "[B]asic work activities [include] the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b). Physical examples include walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, handling, seeing, hearing, and speaking. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b)(1)-(2). Mental examples include understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; use of judgment; responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b)(3)-(6).

  If at step two it is determined that the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step, which determines whether the impairment is equivalent to one of a number of listed impairments that the Secretary acknowledges are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Appendix 1 to Subpart P. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If a condition "falls short of the [listing] criterion" a multiple factor analysis is appropriate. Celaya v. Halter, 332 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2003). In such analysis, "the Commissioner of ...


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