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Jaime Avila Velasquez v. Michael J. Astrue

May 11, 2011

JAIME AVILA VELASQUEZ, 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 June 18, 2010, plaintiff Jaime Avila Velasquez ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant"), the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, seeking review of a denial of disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). [Docket No. 3.]

On December 15, 2010, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 13, 14.]

In sum, having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' joint stipulation and the administrative record, the Court concludes that, as detailed below, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") improperly discounted Plaintiff's subjective complaints. The Court thus 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, who was 46 years old on the date of his administrative hearing, has completed the third grade.*fn1 (See Administrative Record ("AR") at 32, 104, 147.)

On December 5, 2007, Plaintiff filed for DIB, alleging that he has been disabled since April 18, 2006 due to a cervical spine injury and posterior disc protrusions. (See AR at 59, 66, 104, 138, 142.)

On January 12, 2010, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (See AR at 32-56.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Martin G. Brodwin, Ph.D., a vocational expert ("VE"). (Id.; see also id. at 112.) An interpreter was present to assist Plaintiff at the hearing. (See id. at 32, 34-35.)

On February 25, 2010, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 15-26.) 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. (Id. at 17.)

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments consisting of "degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine," obesity, and diabetes mellitus. (AR at 18 (emphasis omitted).)

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence did not demonstrate that Plaintiff's impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equaled the severity of any listing set forth in the Social Security regulations.*fn2 (AR at 18.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity*fn3 ("RFC") and determined that he can perform light work. (AR at 19.) Specifically, the ALJ found:

[Plaintiff] is able to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for six hours, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. [Plaintiff] is able to operate foot controls no more than occasionally. He is unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He is otherwise able to perform postural activities (climb ramp/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl) occasionally. He should not be exposed to hazards, such as heights, dangerous, moving machinery, etc. (Id. (emphasis omitted).)

The ALJ found, at step four, that Plaintiff lacks the ability to perform his past relevant work. (AR at 23.)

At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform," including product inspector, product packer, and product assembler. (AR at 24-25 (emphasis omitted).) Thus, the ALJ concluded that ...


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