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Jimmy Carroll v. Michael J. Astrue

May 24, 2011

JIMMY CARROLL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Jacqueline Chooljian United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND

I. SUMMARY

On September 17, 2010, plaintiff Jimmy Carroll ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of plaintiff's application for benefits. The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, respectively ("Plaintiff's Motion") and ("Defendant's Motion"). The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L.R. 7-15; September 20, 2010, Case Management Order, ¶ 5.

Based on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED AND REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order of Remand because the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") failed properly to evaluate the medical opinion evidence.

II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

On January 3, 2008 and January 29, 2008, plaintiff filed, respectively, applications for Supplemental Security Income benefits and Disability Insurance Benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") 8). Plaintiff asserted that he became disabled on June 21, 2007, due to knee and lower back injuries, a bone spur in his neck, and chronic arthritis. (AR 8, 143). The ALJ examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel), a medical expert and a vocational expert on March 30, 2010. (AR 23).

On May 14, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 8, 18). Specifically, the ALJ found:

(1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disk disease and degenerative arthritis of the neck and low back, mild osteoarthritis of the left knee, and obesity (AR 10); (2) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments (AR 10-11); (3) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b); 416.967(b)) with additional exertional and non-exertional limitations (AR 11);*fn1 (4) plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work (AR 16); (5) there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform (AR 17); and (6) plaintiff's allegations regarding his limitations were not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment (AR 12).

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's application for review. (AR 1).

III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Sequential Evaluation Process

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that he is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work he previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). In assessing whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is to follow a five-step sequential evaluation process:

(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. ...


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