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Golphin v. Astrue

January 5, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen J. Hillman United States Magistrate Judge


This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Sections 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the undersigned. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before the Commissioner. The plaintiff and the defendant have filed their pleadings (Defendant's Answer; Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint ["Plaintiff's Mem."]; Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Answer; Plaintiff's Reply to Defendant's Memorandum), and the defendant has filed the certified transcript of record. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed and remanded.

On January 23, 2006, plaintiff John Golphin filed an application for a period of disability or Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging an inability to work since May 7, 2005 due to a back injury. (Administrative Record ["AR"] 124-128, 157).

On January 31, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 13-21).

Following the Appeals Council's denial of plaintiff's request for a review of the hearing decision (AR 1-5), plaintiff filed an action in this Court.

Plaintiff makes four challenges to the ALJ's Decision denying benefits. Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred in (1) failing to conclude that plaintiff's impairments met or equaled Listing 1.04; (2) failing to properly determine plaintiff's residual functional capacity; (3) failing to provide clear and convincing reasons for finding plaintiff's testimony not credible; and; and (4) failing to provide proper reasons for finding plaintiff's wife's testimony not credible.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that plaintiff's first and second claims of error do not have merit, and that plaintiff's third and fourth claims of error do have merit.


Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to conclude that plaintiff's impairments met or equaled Listing 1.04, specifically, the portion related to nerve root compression. Defendant argues that the ALJ properly assessed that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal that Listing.

If a plaintiff suffers a severe impairment, the ALJ is required to decide whether the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 181 (9th Cir. 1990); Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). Disability is presumed if a plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments meets or is medically equivalent to one of the listed impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141-42, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987); Barker v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 882 F.2d 1474, 1477 (9th Cir. 1989). An impairment meets a listed impairment if a plaintiff has "a medically determinable impairment(s) that satisfies all of the criteria of the listing."

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525(d), 416.925(d); see also Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 531, 110 S.Ct. 885, 107 L.Ed.2d 967 (1990). The criteria of a listed impairment cannot be met solely based on a diagnosis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525(d), 416.925(d); see also Key v. Heckler, 754 F.2d 1545, 1549-50 (9th Cir. 1985). An impairment is "medically equivalent to a listed impairment... if it is at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1526(a), 416.926(a). If an impairment is not described in the listed impairments, or if the combination of impairments does not meet one of the listed impairments, the determination of medical equivalence is based on a comparison of findings (concerning a plaintiff) "with those for closely analogous listed impairments." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1526(b), 416.926(b). The decision is based on "all evidence in [a plaintiff's] record about [his or her] impairment(s) and its effect on [a plaintiff] that is relevant to this finding" and on designated medical or psychological consultants.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1526(c), 416.926(c).

Listing 1.04 requires "[d]isorders of the spine (e.g., herniated nucleus pulposus, spinal arachnoditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthristis, verterbral fracture), resulting in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord." 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Listing of Impairments 1.04. Listing 1.04 further requires one of the following: "Evidence of nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain, limitation of motion of the spine, motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss and, if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine)"; "Spinal arachnoiditis, confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours"; or "Lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudication, established by findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging, manifested by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness, and resulting in inability to ambulate effectively as defined in 1.00B2b."*fn1 Id. (emphasis added).

The ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe combination of impairments: "degenerative disc disease at L2-3 and at L5-S1 with osteophystes and a 4 to 5 mm disc protrusion at L5-S1 with possible nerve root involvement, a 2 mm disc protrusion at L2-3, bilateral facet joint arthropathy and ligamenta ...

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