Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Suzuki v. Astrue

November 3, 2010

VIVIAN SUZUKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patrick J. Walsh United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Plaintiff's appeal of a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying her applications for Disability Insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in determining her residual functional capacity and identifying her past relevant work. (Joint Stip. at 3-7, 10-13.) For the reasons explained below, the Court concludes that the ALJ did err and remands the case to the Agency for further proceedings.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on June 26, 2007, alleging that she had been unable to work since June 1, 2005, due to back problems, high blood pressure, and complications from car accidents. (Administrative Record ("AR") 144-48, 167.) The Agency denied the applications initially and on reconsideration. (AR 96-107.) Plaintiff then requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 108-10.) On November 5, 2008, Plaintiff appeared with counsel at the hearing and testified. (AR 18-83.) On December 15, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 86-95.) After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, she commenced this action. (AR 1-7.)

III. ANALYSIS

A. The ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity Determination

In her first claim of error, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in determining that she was capable of performing light work. (Joint Stip. at 3-7.) For the following reasons, the Court concludes that the ALJ erred but that the error was harmless.

Examining orthopedist Dr. Thomas Dorsey opined that Plaintiff was capable of performing work involving a full day of standing and a half day of walking.*fn1 (AR 265.) This equates to light work. See 28 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) ("Light work . . . requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls.") Consulting doctor Samuel Landau testified at the hearing that Plaintiff could not stand or walk for more than two hours in an eight-hour workday.*fn2 (AR 27.) These limitations equate to sedentary work. See 28 C.F.R. § 416.967(b); and Social Security Ruling 83-10 ("[T]he full range of light work requires standing or walking, off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday.").

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of light work. (AR 92.) However, he never explained why he was rejecting Dr. Landau's opinion that Plaintiff was limited to sedentary work. Plaintiff contends this was error. (Joint Stip. at 5-6.) The Agency seems, at least on the surface, to agree. It writes, "As Plaintiff indicates, the [residual functional capacity] was mistranscribed, and failed to list Plaintiff's standing, walking, and sitting restrictions (AR 92)." (Joint Stip. at 8.) The Agency goes on to argue, however, that, in fact, the ALJ actually adopted Dr. Landau's residual functional capacity finding and, therefore, any error was harmless. (Joint Stip. at 8-9.)

The ALJ clearly erred when he wrote at page four of his decision that Plaintiff could perform light work. (AR 92.) On the next page of his decision, however, he corrected that error by noting that Plaintiff could only stand and/or walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday. (AR 93.) This was consistent with the residual functional capacity he described for the vocational expert and on which the vocational expert based his opinion. (AR 62 (instructing vocational expert to assume Plaintiff had the same physical restrictions as described by Dr. Landau).) The vocational expert testified that Plaintiff, or someone like her, could not perform Plaintiff's previous work as it was actually performed, but could perform the work as it is generally performed, i.e., at a sedentary level.*fn3 (AR 63-64.) Adopting this testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's functional limitations would not prevent her from performing her past relevant work as a "credit clerk/charge account clerk." (AR 95.) Because the ALJ clearly based his conclusions at step four on the exertional limitations opined by Dr. Landau, it is apparent that he did not actually reject that doctor's opinion. Thus, any error in stating that Plaintiff could do light-level work was harmless. See Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006) (holding error that is inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination is harmless). For these reasons, this claim does not require remand or reversal.

B. Plaintiff's Past Relevant Work

In her second claim of error, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred at step four in determining that she could perform her past relevant work as it is generally performed in the economy. (Joint Stip. at 10-13.) For the following reasons, the Court agrees.

Prior to the administrative hearing, the vocational expert submitted a "work summary" report in which he identified Plaintiff's prior job as a "credit clerk" and described it as sedentary work. (AR 241.) This position is found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.