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Gloria Rodriguez-Curtis v. Michael J. Astrue

February 15, 2011

GLORIA RODRIGUEZ-CURTIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR B. Kenton United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Social Security Case)

This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the Magistrate Judge. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the Administrative Record ("AR") before the Commissioner. The parties have filed the Joint Stipulation ("JS"), and the Commissioner has filed the certified AR.

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") finding that Plaintiff can perform medium work is supported by substantial evidence. (JS at 4.)

This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that for the reasons set forth, the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed.

I

THE ALJ'S DETERMINATION THAT PLAINTIFF IS CAPABLE OF MEDIUM EXERTIONAL WORK IS NOT SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on September 28, 2004. (AR 19.) After administrative denials, she requested a hearing in 2005, which finally occurred on June 19, 2007. (AR 398-412.) On November 27, 2007, an adverse decision was issued. (AR 329-333.) Plaintiff requested review with the Appeals Council which, on June 25, 2008, vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for further hearing. (AR 37-40.)

A supplemental hearing was held on March 16, 2009. (AR 413-441.) Thereafter, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 8, 2009. (AR 19-28.) In that decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") for medium work with occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and a restriction from climbing ropes. (AR 24.) Thereafter, Plaintiff unsuccessfully requested review with the Appeals Council (AR 13-15, 7-9), and this action ensued.

A. The ALJ's Decision.

After finding that Plaintiff was capable of medium exertional work, the ALJ determined that, at Step Four of the sequential evaluation process, Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work as a Home Attendant and Project Director. (AR 24, 27.)

The RFC assessed by the ALJ exceeds the maximum functional capacity as determined by a board certified orthopedist who conducted a complete evaluation ("CE") on April 25, 2005 at the request of the Department of Social Services. (AR 163-167.) Dr. Moses took a history from Plaintiff, performed a complete physical examination, and assessed that Plaintiff can lift and carry 25 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, with other limitations not relevant to this decision. These exertional limits are less than those defined as medium work. (See 20 C.F.R. §416.967(c).) Medium work, as defined in the regulation, involves lifting no more than 50 pounds, with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. In contrast, light work under the regulation involves lifting no more than 20 pounds occasionally, with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. (See 20 C.F.R. §416.967(b).)

On May 12, 2005, the State Agency physician rendered an opinion that Plaintiff could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. This was generally consistent with Dr. Moses' opinion.

The ALJ rejected Dr. Moses' opinion, and thus the Court's task is to determine whether the rejection of that opinion was based on clear and convincing reasons, because that opinion was, in effect, uncontroverted. ...


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