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Lewis v. Astrue

September 14, 2010

CLIFTON M. LEWIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on October 15, 2009, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") for a closed period of disability, from August 1, 2001, through June 1, 2004. On November 13, 2009, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on July 16, 2010, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, in the alternative, remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings; and defendant seeks an order affirming the Commissioner's decision. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On December 26, 2001, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB, in which he alleged a disability onset date of August 1, 2001 due to a back injury. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 59-61, 71.) Plaintiff has past relevant work as a handyman and mason. (A.R. 72.)

After the denial of plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 22-27, 30-33), plaintiff timely requested a hearing (A.R. 34). On February 25, 2003, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge John W. Belcher ("ALJ Belcher"). (A.R. 197-227.) On June 2, 2003, a supplemental hearing was held. (A.R. 228-49.) On July 17, 2003, ALJ Belcher denied plaintiff's application. (A.R. 15-18.) Plaintiff timely appealed ALJ Belcher's decision, and the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (A.R. 4-6.) On May 20, 2004, plaintiff sought review in this Court (Case No. EDCV 04-593-MAN), which remanded the case for further proceedings in a March 30, 2006 Order (the "2006 Remand Order").*fn1 (A.R. 280-301.)

On May 11, 2006, the Appeals Council effectuated the 2006 Remand Order (A.R. 279) and remanded the matter for a supplemental hearing, which occurred on August 3, 2006. (A.R. 368-89.) Plaintiff again testified before ALJ Belcher. (Id.) At the hearing, plaintiff, through his attorney, requested a closed period of disability from August 1, 2001, through June 1, 2004. (A.R. 371.) On January 19, 2007, ALJ Belcher again denied plaintiff's application. (A.R. 256-60.) On April 10, 2007, plaintiff again appealed to this Court (Case No. EDCV 07-412-MAN), and on August 29, 2008, the Court again remanded the case for further proceedings (the "2008 Remand Order"). (A.R. 438-50.) In the 2008 Remand Order, the Court ordered the ALJ to specify the allegations of pain and/or symptoms he found not to be credible and provide clear and convincing reasons, based upon substantial evidence in the record, for rejecting them. (A.R. 448.)

On February 20, 2009, the Appeals Council effectuated the 2008 Remand Order. (A.R. 451.) On April 6, 2009, plaintiff testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Joseph D. Schloss (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 416-29.) On July 2, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application. (A.R. 393-99.)

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from August 1, 2001, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2008, the date last insured.*fn2 (A.R. 395.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff had a severe musculoskeletal impairment. (Id.) The impairment did not meet or equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (A.R. 396.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except lifting and/or carrying more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently with no significant limitations in his ability to stand, walk or sit. [Plaintiff] is precluded from work requiring the use of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, work requiring the use of vibratory tools, work at unprotected heights and not [sic] requiring more than occasional crawling and kneeling. There are no restrictions on bending, stooping or crouching. There are no mental limitations.

(A.R. 396.)

The ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work. (A.R. 398.) Having considered plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, and in reliance on testimony from the vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs existed in the national economy that plaintiff could have performed, including jobs as a bench assembler, hand packager/inspector, and cashier II. (A.R. 398-99.)

Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, from August 1, 2001, through ...


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