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Johnson v. Astrue

September 15, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge


Introduction and Summary

Plaintiff, who coincidentally has the same initials as his attorney, is a person with a sporadic work record over the years who does not qualify for Social Security (Title II) benefits on account of uninsured status. He therefore filed for Supplemental Security Income (Title XVI) benefits on June 7, 2007, alleging a disability onset of April 2003. He suffers from physical and mental afflictions which will be detailed below. The ALJ in this case did a creditable job in reviewing the evidence of ailments, which for the most part, appeared to have favorably responded to medical treatment; however, he directly violated a holding of the Ninth Circuit in not performing a credibility analysis with respect to a lay witness, and also erred in not assigning any limitations to plaintiff's residual functional capacity based on right hand carpal tunnel syndrome. For these reasons, the undersigned grants plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, denies the Commissioner's cross-motion, and remands for a re-analysis.*fn1 Background

Thirty-seven years old at the time of the ALJ's decision, plaintiff sought disability benefits based on hepatitis C, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, and depression with an inability to get along with people. He was later diagnosed with bipolar symptoms occasioned by a prison sentence. As his case progressed through the administrative process, plaintiff reported that his mental symptoms had worsened: "The voices in my head got louder;" "I can't be around people without wanting to shed their blood;" "I can't stand to be around people, I want the world to die." Tr. 145. However, plaintiff's condition was not seen as serious by consulting physicians as plaintiff's statements, on their face, made them appear, and in any event, medication worked to some degree to quell such thoughts. Plaintiff's hepatitis C was found to be essentially cured. Tr. 16-18. Plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrom remained a severe impairment. In sum, the ALJ specifically found:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 7, 2007, the date he protectively filed his application (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.)

2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: hepatitis C, status post combination peg-interferon ribavirin treatment, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, status post carpal tunnel release surgery, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder with antipersonality disorder traits (20 CFR 416.920(c)).

3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.925 and 416.926).

4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant retains the residual functional capacity for substantially all of the full range of light work, except that he has mental limitations that preclude working with more than simple job and uncomplicated job instructions and that preclude working with more than occasional contact with the public.

5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).

6. The claimant was born on August 5, 1971 and was 35 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed. (20 CFR 416.963).

7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).

8. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled," whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).

9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969a).

10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since June 7, 2007, the date the ...

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