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Sanders v. Astrue

September 15, 2010

RAYMOND SANDERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), and partially denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act.*fn1 (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. No. 20.) Plaintiff only challenges the Commissioner's decision as to the application for DIB under Title II of the Act, which was denied on the on the ground that plaintiff was not disabled as of, or prior to, his date when last insured, September 30, 1999. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1:14-17.)

Plaintiff contends that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determination that plaintiff was disabled as of March 17, 2005, but not prior to September 30, 1999, is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. He argues that the ALJ erred by:

(1) not using the services of a medical advisor to establish the proper date of onset of plaintiff's disability; (2) finding that plaintiff did not suffer from a "severe" impairment during the relevant time period; and (3) rejecting the opinions of two of plaintiff's treating physicians, Leslie K. Ellis Eaton, M.D. ("Dr. Eaton") and George Scarmon, M.D. ("Dr. Scarmon"), regarding the date of onset.*fn2 The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion, which the court construes as a cross-motion for summary judgment.*fn3 (Dkt. No. 21.) For the reasons stated below, the court will grant plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in part and remand this matter for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND*fn4

Plaintiff was 62 years old as of the date of the ALJ's decision.*fn5 (See Administrative Transcript ("AT") 33.) He previously worked as a doctor of podiatry. (AT 342.) Plaintiff ceased working as a podiatrist in 1995, mainly because of migraine headaches and his inability to retain staff. (AT 342.) He subsequently attempted to perform other forms of work, including work as a test scorer. (AT 347-48.)

A. Procedural Background

On April 20, 2005, plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging an onset date of March 20, 1996.*fn6 (See AT 60-64, 349.) The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. (AT 41-42, 48-52, 55-59.) Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ, and the ALJ conducted a hearing regarding plaintiff's applications on March 13, 2007. (AT 46, 337-72.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel at the hearing, was the only witness who testified at the hearing.

In a decision dated June 1, 2007, the ALJ granted plaintiff's application in part. (See AT 23-34.) He granted plaintiff's application for SSI benefits, with a disability onset date of March 17, 2005, but denied plaintiff's application for DIB on the basis a finding that plaintiff was not disabled prior to the expiration of his insured status on September 30, 1999.*fn7 The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (AT 5-7.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

B. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ conducted the five-step, sequential evaluation and concluded that plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Act, but only as of March 17, 2005. (AT 33.) Initially, the ALJ concluded that, for the purposes of plaintiff's DIB application, plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on September 30, 1999.*fn8 (AT 32.) At step one, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 20, 1996, the alleged date of onset. (AT 33.)

At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not have a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments prior to September 30, 1999, and was thus not disabled as of that date. (AT 32, 33.) The ALJ rejected plaintiff's claim that prior to September 30, 1999, he was disabled as a result of the following impairments: a severe depressive disorder, migraine headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and symptoms secondary to peripheral neuropathy.*fn9 (AT 27.) This finding at step two ended the ALJ's sequential analysis of plaintiff's DIB application.*fn10

(AT 32.) The ALJ concluded, however, that as of March 17, 2005, plaintiff suffered from a "severe depressive disorder," and continued the sequential analysis as it related to plaintiff's application for SSI, from March 17, 2005 forward. (See AT 32.)

The ALJ did not make an express step three finding, but concluded, at steps four and five, that as of March 17, 2005, plaintiff's depressive disorder precluded him from performing his past work and that there were not a significant number of jobs in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. (AT 33.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that ...


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