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Corbin v. Astrue

March 23, 2009

RUSSELL CORBIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

Plaintiff filed this action seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his applications for Disability Income Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, respectively. Pending are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.*fn1 For the reasons discussed below, the court grants plaintiff's motion and denies defendant's motion.This case is remanded to the Commissioner for entry of judgment directing the payment of benefits to plaintiff.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, born on January 10, 1957, applied for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on June 30, 2003, based on a disability onset date of June 16, 2003. Administrative Record ("AR") at 78-81, 23. On August 24, 2003, the Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications based on a finding that plaintiff was not disabled. AR 59-62. Plaintiff's request for reconsideration was denied by the Commissioner on December 5, 2003. AR 67-71. On December 15, 2003, plaintiff formally requested a hearing. AR 72-73.

On July 21, 2004, the first of two hearings was held before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Plauche F. Villere. AR 358-80. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing, and was the only person to testify. Id. The ALJ issued a decision on February 7, 2005, finding that plaintiff is not disabled.*fn2 AR 42-56. The ALJ made the following specific findings:

1. The claimant meets the non-disability requirements for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits set forth in Section 216(i) of the Social Security Act and is insured for benefits through the date of this decision.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of disability.

3. The claimant's aortoiliac occlusive disease involving the bilateral lower extremities, lumbar degenerative disease, bipolar disorder, and alcohol and drug dependence in sustained full remission are considered "severe" based on the requirements in the Regulations 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c).

4. These medically determinable impairments do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4.

5. The undersigned finds the claimant's allegations regarding his limitations are not totally credible for the reasons set forth in the body of the decision. The undersigned has carefully considered all medical opinion of record regarding the severity of the claimant's symptoms.

6. The claimant retains the residual functional capacity to perform a wide range of unskilled sedentary work that does not require the operation of foot controls. In an 8-hour workday, the claimant could sit for 6 hours and stand/walk for 2 hours with breaks. He requires the use of a cane for ambulating long distances or over uneven terrain. He could lift and/or carry and push/pull 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. He could bend, stoop, squat, crouch, crawl, and climb stairs or ramps occasionally. He is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He should avoid frequent interaction with co-workers and the public.

7. The claimant is unable to perform any of his past relevant work (20 CFR §§ 404.1565 and 416.965).

8. The claimant is a "younger individual" (20 CFR §§ 404.1563 and 416.963).

9. The claimant has "a limited education" (20 CFR §§ 404.1564 and 416.964).

10. The claimant has no transferable skills from any past relevant work and/or transferability of skills is not an issue in this case (20 CFR §§ 404.1568 and 416.968).

11. The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform substantially all of the full range of unskilled sedentary work (20 CFR §§ 404.1567 and 416.967).

12. Based on an exertional capacity for a wide range of unskilled sedentary work, and the claimant's age, education, and work experience, Medical-Vocational Rule 201.19, Appendix 2, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4 would direct a conclusion of "not disabled."

13. The claimant's capacity for sedentary work is substantially intact and has not been significantly compromised by any non-exertional limitations. Accordingly, using the above-cited rule(s) as a framework for decision-making, the claimant is not disabled.

14. The claimant was not under a "disability," as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time through the date of this decision (20 CFR §§ 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

AR 45-56.

Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. AR 313-14. On October 19, 2005, the Appeals Council granted plaintiff's request for review, vacated the hearing decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings. AR 315-18. The Appeals Council stated:

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found, in relevant part, that the claimant's mental impairment precludes frequent interaction with co-workers and the general public (finding #6). The ALJ then found the claimant is precluded from returning to any of his past relevant work. Upon consideration of his vocational profile and residual functional capacity, the ALJ determined that Rule 201.19 of Table 1, Appendix 2, Subpart P of Social Security Administration regulations No. 4, is applicable and this rule provides the framework for concluding that the claimant is not disabled. The decision reflects that input from a vocational expert (VE) was not obtained. Given that the claimant is limited to occasional interaction with co-workers and the public, input from a VE is needed to ascertain the impact such limitations have on the claimant's occupational base.

In addition, the record contains a consultative psychiatric report dated September 27, 2004, from Timothy Canty, M.D. This report was addressed but it was not completely summarized or evaluated (page 6 ¶ 2). Specifically, Dr. Canty indicated that the claimant's "history is consistent with frequent episodes of major depression occurring four to six times per year which have not remitted with extensive psychiatric care and abstinence from alcohol. If he continues on this pattern it would be difficult to imagine him being able to keep a typical job with typical expectations" (exhibit 10F/4). This aspect of Dr. Canty's opinion was not noted in the decision. Accordingly, Dr. Canty's opinions need to be addressed and cogent reasons given for the probative value determined.

The record also contains statements from the claimant's sister, Bonnie Bell, (exhibit 1E), which should be addressed.

***

Upon remand the Administrative Law Judge will:

* Give further consideration to the claimant's maximum residual functional capacity during the entire period at issue and provide rationale with specific references to evidence of record in support of assessed limitations (Social Security Ruling 96-8p). In so doing, evaluate the examining source opinion pursuant to the provisions of 20 CFR 404.1527 and 416.927 and Social Security Rulings 96-2p and 96-5p, and explain the weight given to such opinion evidence. As appropriate, the Administrative Law Judge may request the examining source to provide additional evidence and/or further clarification of the opinion and medical source statements about what the claimant can still do despite the impairment (20 CFR 404.1512 and 416.912).

* Evaluate the lay statements made by the claimant's sister, Bonnie Bell, pursuant to the adjudicative provisions set forth in 20 CFR 404.1513(d)(4) and 416.913(d)(4) as part of the assessment of the claimant's credibility.

* Obtain evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on the claimant's occupational base (Social Security Ruling 83-14). The hypothetical questions should reflect the specific capacity/limitations established by the record as a whole. The Administrative Law Judge will ask the vocational expert to identify examples of appropriate jobs and to state the incidence of such jobs in the national economy (20 CFR 404.1566 and 416.966). Further, before relying on the vocational expert evidence the Administrative Law Judge will identify and resolve any conflicts between the occupational evidence provided by the vocational expert and information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and its companion publication, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations (Social Security Ruling 00-4p).

AR 316-17.

A supplemental hearing was then held before ALJ Villere on August 21, 2006. AR 381-410. Plaintiff was again represented by counsel at the hearing. Vocational Expert ("VE") Mr. Clark and medical experts Drs. Doren and Walther testified. Id. On November 13, 2006, the ALJ again denied plaintiff's disability benefits. AR19-33. The ALJ found:

1. The claimant meets the non-disability requirements for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits set forth in Section 216(i) of the Social Security Act and is insured for benefits through the date of this decision.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of disability.

3. The claimant's back and hip pain, peripheral vascular disease, bipolar, and post traumatic stress disorder are considered "severe" based on the requirements in the Regulations 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c).

4. These medically determinable impairments do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4.

5. The undersigned finds the claimant's allegations regarding his limitations are not totally credible for the reasons set forth in the body of the decision.

6. The claimant can perform sedentary unskilled work and simple 1-3 step jobs. He can stand/walk two hours with breaks in an eight hour workday, he can sit six hours with breaks in an eight hour workday. He can occasionally lift/carry 20 pounds and frequently lift/carry 10 pounds. [He] is limited in lower extremities. He can occasionally climb ropes, stairs, ladder rope, scaffold, balance, kneel, crouch and crawl. He can perform unskilled, simple one-three steps with little public contact. He has moderate limitations in his ability to understand and remember short, simple instructions, carry out short, simple instructions, understand and remember detailed instruction, carry out detailed instructions, make judgments on simple work-related decision. Furthermore, he would have moderate limitations in his ability to interact appropriately with the ...


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