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Payne v. Astrue

January 23, 2009

JUDGE J. PAYNE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer T. Lum United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

PROCEEDINGS

On April 7, 2008, Judge J. Payne ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Social Security Administration's denial of his application for Disability Insurance Benefits. On May 1, 2008, plaintiff filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum. On August 18, 2008, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("defendant"), filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum. Thereafter, on October 14, 2008, defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint. On November 25, 2008, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation.

The matter is now ready for decision.

BACKGROUND

In a disability determination dated October 24, 1994, plaintiff was found to be disabled as of March 1, 1994, due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, pursuant to his applications for Childhood Disability Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. (See Administrative Record ["AR"] at 85, 86-89). Subsequently, a continuing disability investigation was conducted and, by notice dated November 7, 2003, plaintiff was informed that he was no longer disabled as of November 1, 2003 and thus was no longer entitled to Supplemental Security Income. (See AR at 49-52, 53). Plaintiff's eligibility for benefits effectively ended January 31, 2004. (See AR at 50, 52). Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration and his case was reviewed by a disability hearing officer. (See AR at 46-47, 37-44, 45, 91-100). In a decision dated May 14, 2004, the disability hearing officer concurred with the initial finding that plaintiff was no longer disabled. (AR at 37-44; see AR at 33-35).

Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR at 31). On December 1, 2004, the ALJ conducted a hearing in San Bernardino, California. (See AR at 727-52). Plaintiff appeared without counsel and testified. (AR at 729-40). Plaintiff's mother, Lovine Payne, also appeared at the hearing and testified. (AR at 740-46, 749, 750-52). In addition, Luis Mas, a vocational expert, testified at the hearing. (AR at 747-49, 749-50). On December 20, 2004, the ALJ issued his decision denying benefits to plaintiff, concluding that plaintiff's disability had ceased on November 1, 2003. (AR at 575-79). The Appeals Council granted plaintiff's timely request for review of the ALJ's decision and, on July 1, 2005, vacated the ALJ's decision. (See AR at 580-81, 585-86, 593-96). The Appeals Council remanded the matter for further proceedings to allow the ALJ to obtain additional evidence concerning plaintiff's mental impairments from plaintiff's treating physician, Jeremiah Umakanthan, M.D., and to properly evaluate plaintiff's mental impairments. (See AR at 594, 595).

Thereafter, on February 1, 2006, the ALJ conducted a second hearing in San Bernardino, California. (AR at 753-74). Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (AR at 755-65). Plaintiff's mother and Troy Scott, a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. (AR at 765-70, 770-73). On June 28, 2006, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits to plaintiff. (AR at 21-26). The ALJ incorporated by reference his prior, December 20, 2004, decision. (AR at 21). In his decision, the ALJ stated that, at the time of the most recent favorable medical decision finding plaintiff disabled, plaintiff suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), which had been found to meet an impairment listed in Section 112.11 of the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Section 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR at 23; see AR at 85). The ALJ found no documented physical impairment and, thus, work was possible at any exertional level. (Id.). The ALJ determined that plaintiff did not develop any additional impairments through November 1, 2003 and, thus, plaintiff continued to have the same impairment that he had at the time of his most recent favorable disability determination. (Id.). The ALJ further found that, as of November 1, 2003, plaintiff's impairment was severe, but did not meet or equal the criteria contained in Appendix 1 of the regulations. (Id.). The ALJ determined that there had been a decrease in medical severity of plaintiff's impairment as of November 1, 2003, and that his medical improvement was related to his ability to work. (Id.). The ALJ determined that, as of November 1, 2003, plaintiff had the mental residual functional capacity to perform routine and repetitive, entry level, minimally stressful work, requiring no contact with the general public and only superficial interpersonal contact with co-workers and supervisors. (AR at 24-25). Although plaintiff had no past relevant work, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was able to perform and successfully adjust to jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, including the jobs of dishwasher, hand packager, and food preparation worker. (AR at 25-26). Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff's disability ended as of November 1, 2003. (AR at 22, 26). After receiving additional evidence from plaintiff, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's timely request for review of the ALJ's decision. (AR at 6-9).

Thereafter, plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court.

PLAINTIFF'S CONTENTIONS

Plaintiff makes the following claims:

1. The ALJ erred in rejecting the residual mental functional capacity assessments of plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Jeremiah Umakanthan, M.D.

2. The ALJ improperly rejected or omitted mention of the statements of lay witnesses ...


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