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Jose Palacios v. Michael J. Astrue

February 28, 2011


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



INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY On March 10, 2010, plaintiff Jose Palacios ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant"), the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, seeking review of a denial of an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). [Docket No. 1.]

On September 30, 2010, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 18, 21.]

On April 14, 2010, this matter was transferred to the calendar of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. [Docket No. 12.] Both Plaintiff and Defendantsubsequently consented to proceed for all purposes before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). [Docket Nos. 13, 14.]

Pursuant to a March 12, 2010 case management order, the parties submitted a detailed, 20-page joint stipulation for decision on November 24, 2010. [Docket No. 24.] The Court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument. In sum, having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' joint stipulation and the administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that, as detailed herein, there is substantial evidence in the record, taken as a whole, to support the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Thus, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision denying benefits.


PERTINENT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND Plaintiff, who was 50 years old on the date of his administrative hearing, has a sixth grade education. (See AR at 60, 395, 399.) His past relevant work includes employment as a coder of circuit boards, warehouse worker, and loader/unloader (Id. at 412; see also id. at 74, 83.)

On May 10, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB alleging that he has been disabled since June 30, 1998 due to dislocated discs in his back and headaches. (See AR at 13, 44.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which he filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 25, 26, 33, 34-39, 40, 42, 44-48, 49-52.)

On July 25, 2007, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, appeared and testified at a hearing ("Hearing") before an ALJ. (See AR at 395, 397-415.) Corinne Porter, a vocational expert ("VE"), also testified. (See id. at 412-13.)

On August 17, 2007, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 13-20.) Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of disability through his date of last insured. (Id. at 15.)

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments consisting of "status post several fractures and lumbar sprain/strain."1/ (AR at 15 (bold omitted).)

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence does not demonstrate that Plaintiff's impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equal the severity of any listing set forth in the Social Security regulations.2/ (AR at 15-16.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity3/ ("RFC") and determined that he can perform light work, but limited him to "occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, any stooping, or any power gripping or forceful torquing of the wrist." (AR at 16 (bold omitted).)

The ALJ found, at step four, that Plaintiff lacks the ability to perform his past relevant work. (AR at 18.)

At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that "there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] could have performed," such as cleaner, sewing machine operator, or hand packer. (AR at 19(bold omitted).) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. (Id. at 13, 19-20.)

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was

1/ Status post multiple fractures refers to the state or condition following several fractures. Stedman's Medical Dictionary 770, 1830 (28th ed. 2006).

2/ See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. 3/ Residual functional capacity is what a claimant can still do despite existing exertional and non-exertional limitations. Cooper v. Sullivan, 880 F.2d 1152, 1155 n. 5 (9th Cir. 1989). "Between steps three and four of the five-step evaluation, the ALJ must proceed to an intermediate step in which the ALJ assesses the ...

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