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Jimenez v. Astrue

October 12, 2010

MARIO R. JIMENEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

On December 1, 2009, plaintiff Mario R. Jimenez ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant" or "Commissioner"), the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, seeking review of a denial of an application for supplemental security income. [Docket No. 4.]

On February 19, 2010, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 13, 15.]

On April 14, 2010, this matter was transferred to the calendar of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. [Docket No. 20.] Both Plaintiff and Defendant subsequently consented to proceed for all purposes before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Docket Nos. 21, 22.]

Pursuant to a December 2, 2009 order regarding further proceedings, Plaintiff submitted a brief in support of his complaint ("Plaintiff's Brief") on March 17, 2010. [Docket No. 18.] On April 15, 2010, Defendant submitted his opposition brief ("Defendant's Brief"). [Docket No. 19.] The Court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

In sum, having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' written submissions and the administrative record, the Court concludes that, as detailed below, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in evaluating the opinion of Plaintiff's examining physician. The ALJ improperly substituted his own medical interpretation in place of the examining orthopedic surgeon. Thus, the Court remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II. PERTINENT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has a masters degree in electronics and was 59 years old on the date of his administrative hearing. (See Administrative Record ("AR") at 22, 25, 69.) Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (Id. at 20.)

On December 19, 2006, over three years ago, Plaintiff filed for supplemental security income ("SSI"), alleging that he has been disabled since November 1, 1989 due to high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and depression, anxiety and panic attacks. (See AR at 39, 46, 69-72.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Id. at 39-43, 44, 46-50.)

On March 27, 2009, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (AR at 22, 24-36.)

On June 9, 2009, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 13-21.) Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process -- which is discussed below -- the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his SSI application date. (Id. at 15.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments consisting of "an impairment involving the musculoskeletal system, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and obesity[]" and "mental impairment from a mood disorder[.]" (Id. (emphasis omitted).)

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence does not demonstrate that Plaintiff's impairment, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equal the severity of any listing set forth in the Social Security regulations.*fn1 (AR at 15.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity*fn2 ("RFC") and determined that he can perform "medium work . . . except postural limitations (i.e., climbing ramps/stairs/ladders/ropes/scaffolds, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling) could be done on a frequent basis." (AR at 16 (emphasis omitted).) The ALJ also stated that "[m]entally, he can perform unskilled entry level (SVP 2), object-oriented work." (Id. (emphasis omitted).)

The ALJ found, at step four, that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (AR at 20.)

At step five, based on Plaintiff's vocational factors, the ALJ found that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform." (AR at 20 (emphasis omitted).) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. (Id. at 13, 21.)

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. (AR at 5-7, 9.) The ALJ's decision stands as ...


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