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Javier Benavides v. Michael J. Astrue

September 21, 2011

JAVIER BENAVIDES,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lucy H. Koh United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Plaintiff Javier Benavides ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to 19 obtain review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's decision denying his claim for 20 disability benefits. Plaintiff seeks an order reversing the decision, or in the alternative remanding 21 the matter for further consideration with instructions for an award of benefits. Presently before the 22 Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Having considered the parties' papers 23 and the administrative record, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion and DENIES Plaintiff's 24 motion. I.BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

On January 20, 2007, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled on May 4, 2006 based upon diabetes, 5 back pain, and depression. Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") 80-84, 104. Plaintiff's application 6 was denied initially, and upon reconsideration, based on findings that Plaintiff's impairments were 7 not disabling and that Plaintiff could still perform light work. Tr. 60-61. Plaintiff disputes only the 8 finding that his back pain is non-disabling. Tr. 46-47. an administrative law judge (ALJ) of the Office of Disability and Adjudication Review in San Jose, 11

California. Tr. 39-59. In a May 14, 2008 decision, the ALJ found that, although Plaintiff had 12 reduced functional capacity due to back impairment, Plaintiff was not disabled because he could 13 still perform "light exertional work" in the national economy. Tr. 8-21. The ALJ based his finding 14 on the determination that Plaintiff's self-reported symptoms of back pain were not entirely 15 credible, and upon the absence of objective medical evidence that Plaintiff's injury was completely 16 disabling. Tr. 8-21. On May 21, 2010, the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's 17 request for review. Presently before the Court are parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. 18

Plaintiff was born July 6, 1955, and is a high school graduate. In his application for 20 disability benefits, Plaintiff alleged that he suffers from chronic, severe lower back pain. Plaintiff 21 worked continuously and paid FICA payroll taxes from 1973 through 2006. Tr. 86. In the fifteen 22 years preceding his alleged disability, Plaintiff held jobs as an apartment complex maintenance 23 worker, drill press operator, and exterminator helper. Tr. 110. Plaintiff also held an unspecified 24 temporary job in March 2006, but left this position because it involved continuous standing and 25 walking around which led to further back pain. Tr. 45, 48, 367. Plaintiff also claims that he 26 suffered from back pain prior to the alleged onset of disability (May 4, 2006), though Plaintiff 27 acknowledges that he controlled his intermittent back pain with a supportive belt. Tr. 367.

On April 11, 2008, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified in an appeal hearing before

B. Relevant Factual Background

Plaintiff was laid off from his last job as an apartment maintenance worker in March 24, 2006, and 2 went on California state disability benefits in May 2006. Tr. 45, 110. 3

There is some evidence in the record of Plaintiff's back impairment. For example, an 4 examination by pain management specialist, Venkat Aachi, M.D. ("Dr. Aachi"), on July 12, 2006 5 revealed paraspinal spasming between the L4-5 and L5-S1 facet joints and a range of back motion 6 reduced to 50-60% of normal. Tr. 367. In addition, an MRI scan performed by radiologist 7 Archana B. Rao, M.D. ("Dr. Rao") on October 17, 2006 revealed a collection of multilevel 8 degenerative changes in Plaintiff's spine. Tr. 196. Additionally, Plaintiff's primary care physician 9 Philip Creger, M.D. ("Dr. Creger") and Plaintiff's pain specialist Dr. Aachi each completed forms 10 stating that Plaintiff's physical capacity for both standing and sitting were limited. Finally, at his 11 hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that his back injury is disabling because he could not sit 12 for more than forty-five minutes or stand for more than twenty minutes without back pain. 13

In the May 14, 2008 Order denying Plaintiff's claim for disability, the ALJ reasoned that 14 other evidence in the record suggests that Plaintiff's back injury was not fully disabling. For 15 example, during Plaintiff's July 12, 2006 examination by Dr. Aachi reported that Plaintiff's 16 extremities had full sensation and strength of 5/5. Tr. 367. The ALJ Plaintiff could also perform 17 straight leg raises (SLR) while sitting. Although Dr. Aachi initially rated Plaintiff's left leg SLR 18 capacity as only "questionable" (Tr. 367), later examinations revealed full SLR capacity in both 19 legs. See, e.g.,Tr. 399 (March 17, 2008 examination). Finally, Plaintiff received significant back 20 pain relief, at least temporarily, from facet joint injections into his back. Tr. 362. 21

22 discounted. The disability forms prepared by Plaintiff's physicians were also discounted, to the 23 extent that those reports were based only on the subjective complaints of Plaintiff.

Because the ALJ found the Plaintiff not entirely credible, ...


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