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Aguiniga v. Astrue

September 17, 2008



Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Income Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), for the period from July 28, 2000, through September 17, 2002. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is denied, and the Clerk is directed to enter judgment for plaintiff.


Plaintiff, born October 16, 1955, initially applied for disability benefits on February 9, 2001, alleging disability since July 28, 2000, due to "carpal tunnel on both hands, tendinitis on right hand, fingers, hands, wrists and forearm pain." Administrative Record ("AR") 54, 92-111.

The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 55, 65-67. On September 16, 2002, following a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Antonio AcevedoTorres, plaintiff was found not disabled.*fn1 AR 41-52. Before that decision issued, plaintiff reapplied for benefits on November 4, 2002. AR 57-60. That application was considered, and the Agency determined that plaintiff was disabled as of September 17, 2002, based on a primary diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus ("SLE").*fn2 AR 54. Thus, the issue as to the instant claim is whether plaintiff was disabled for the period from July 28, 2000, through September 17, 2002.

Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's September 16, 2002, decision. AR 38-40; 82-83. On September 3, 2004, the Appeals Council vacated that decision and remanded the case back to the ALJ for further proceedings. AR 84-87. Specifically, the Appeals Council found that the ALJ erred in assessing plaintiff's credibility relative to her subjective complaints, evaluating the opinions of her treating and examining physicians, and assessing the demands of her past relevant work with respect to her residual functional capacity. Id. The Appeals Council instructed the ALJ to reconsider the issue of whether plaintiff was disabled prior to September 17, 2002. AR 87.

On April 6, 2005, a supplemental hearing was held before ALJ Acevedo-Torres. AR 401-44. In a decision dated May 20, 2005, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled from July 28, 2000, through September 17, 2002. AR 12-25. Specifically, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant met the disability insured status requirements of the Act on July 28, 2000, the date the claimant stated she became unable to work, and continues to meet them through December 30, 2006.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date.

3. The evidence supports a finding that during the pertinent period, July 28, 2000 to September 17, 2002, the claimant had a history of De Quervain's tendonitis of the dominant right wrist; left elbow lateral epicondylitis; slight carpal tunnel symptoms of the right hand; carpal tunnel symptoms on the left; lupus, unclassified systemic rheumatic disease characterized by positive ANA, elevated sedimentation rate, elevated immunoglobulins, joint pain, and fibromyalgia. However, she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to one listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4.

Stedman's Medical Dictionary,149 (27th ed. 2000).

4. Subjective complaints are considered credible only to the extent that they are supported by the evidence of record, as summarized in the text of this decision.

5. The claimant has the retained residual functional capacity to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand and/or walk (with normal breaks) for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday. She is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds. She has manipulative limitations of no more than occasional use of her hands for manipulative activities. (20 CFR 404.1520(e) .

6. The claimant is unable to perform her past relevant work as a Clerk for the State of California, and an in-home service worker (20 CFR 404.1520(e) [sic].

7. The claimant is 49 years of age, which is defined as a younger individual.

8. The claimant has a high school education (20 CFR 404.1563, 404.1564).

9. In view of claimant's age and residual functional capacity, the issue of transferability of work skills is not material.

10. If the claimant's exertional capacity were for a full range of light work activities, and there were no non-exertional impairments, in consideration of such a capacity and her age, education and work experience, Guideline Rule 202.21 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines of 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, would direct a conclusion that the claimant is not disabled.

11. Considering the claimant's age, educational background and residual functional capacity she is able to make a successful vocational adjustment to work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Pursuant to the testimony of the vocational expert, these jobs include:

(1) counter clerk, Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) code 249.366-010, light exertion, SVP 2, unskilled work;

(2) scaling machine operator DOT 521.685-386, light exertion, SVP 2;

(3) bakery worker, DOT 524.687-022, light exertion, SVP 2;

(4) election clerk, DOT 205.367-030, sedentary exertion, SVP 2;

(5) children's attendant DOT 349.677-018, ...

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