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Juan Galindo v. Michael J. Astrue

April 5, 2011

JUAN GALINDO, 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

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 ("ALJ") erred in finding at Step Two that Plaintiff's depression does not amount to a legally severe impairment; and

2. Whether the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of treating orthopedist Ahmed and granting controlling weight to the opinions of one-time examining physicians. (JS at 5.)

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 ERRED IN REJECTING TREATING AND EXAMINING PHYSICIANS' OPINIONS REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MENTAL IMPAIRMENT

Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff does not have a legally severe mental impairment at Step Two of the sequential evaluation process (the sequential evaluation process is explained in the ALJ's decision at AR 15-17). For the reasons to be set forth below, the Court agrees.

In his decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment of depression does not cause more than minimal limitation in his ability to perform basic mental work activities, and is therefore non-severe. (AR 17.)

A. Applicable Law.

In evaluating mental impairments, 20 C.F.R. §404.1520a(c)(3)(4) and §416.920a(c)(3)(4) mandate that consideration be given, among other things, to activities of daily living ("ADLs"), social functioning; concentration, persistence, or pace; and episodes of decompensation. These factors are generally analyzed in a Psychiatric Review Technique Form ("PRTF"). The PRTF is used at Step Three of the sequential evaluation to determine if a claimant is disabled under the Listing of Impairments; however, the same data must be considered at subsequent steps unless the mental impairment is found to be not severe at Step Two. See SSR 85-16.

The GAF scale is intended to reflect a person's overall level of functioning at or about the time of the examination, not for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, which is required for a finding of impairment or disability. (See 20 C.F.R. §§416.905, 416.920(c)(2006).)

GAF scores are intended to be used for clinical diagnosis and treatment, and do not directly correlate to the severity assessment set forth in Social Security regulations. (See Revised Medical Criteria for Evaluating Mental Disorders and Traumatic Brain Injury, 65 Fed. Reg. 50746, 50764-65 (Aug. 21, 2000), and American Psychiatric Ass'n, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision 33 (4th Ed.2000).

Step Two of the well-known sequential evaluation process has been characterized as, essentially, a "de minimis screening device to dispose of groundless claims." Smolen ...


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