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Marcelino Gomez v. Michael J. Astrue

November 22, 2011

MARCELINO GOMEZ, 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

I. SUMMARY

On October 15, 2009, plaintiff Marcelino Gomez ("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; October 22, 2009, Case Management Order ¶ 5.

Based on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The findings of the Administrative Law Judge are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material error.*fn1

II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

A. Previously Adjudicated Applications

On December 20, 2001, plaintiff previously filed applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits ("Prior Applications"). (Exhibit B at 1).*fn2

An administrative law judge examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel and assisted by a Spanish language interpreter), Dr. Lowell Sparks, a medical expert ("Dr. Sparks"), and a vocational expert on December 11, 2003 ("2003 Hearing"). (Exhibit A at 1-26).

On June 23, 2004, such administrative law judge issued an unfavorable decision denying benefits based upon the conclusion that plaintiff was not disabled at any time through the date of the decision ("Prior Decision"). (Exhibit B at 1-7).

B. Application In Issue

On July 31, 2006, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("Application in Issue"). (Administrative Record ("AR") 68,*fn3 199). Plaintiff asserted that he became disabled on June 21, 2006, due to problems with his back, right arm and right hand. (AR 7, 68, 210). A different administrative law judge examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel and assisted by a Spanish language interpreter) on April 16, 2009 ("Pre-Remand Hearing"). (AR 68).

On May 6, 2009, such administrative law judge determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision ("Pre-Remand Decision"). (AR 68-75). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's application for review of the PreRemand Decision. (AR 150).

As noted above, plaintiff filed the instant action on October 15, 2009. On December 17, 2009, pursuant to the parties' stipulation and for good cause shown, this Court remanded the case pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative action; A transcript of the Pre-Remand Hearing could not be prepared because the tape recording of that hearing was entirely blank. (AR 153-55, 158). The Appeals Council, in turn, remanded the case to the current Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for a de novo hearing. (AR 156-58).

On August 20, 2010, the ALJ held a post-remand hearing ("Post-Remand Hearing") during which the ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel and assisted by a Spanish language interpreter) and a vocational expert. (AR 19-49).

On October 19, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision ("Post-Remand Decision"). (AR 7-13). Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity and degenerative disk disease of the lumbar and cervical spine (AR 10); (2) plaintiff suffered from the following non-severe impairments: hypertension and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (AR 10); (3) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments (AR 10); (4) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c) (AR 10); (5) plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as an industrial cleaner and lockstitch machine operator (AR 13); 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 11).

On April 26, 2011, the Court ordered the instant action reopened in accordance with the parties' stipulation. (Docket Nos. 15-16; Plaintiff's Motion at 3).

III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Sequential Evaluation Process

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that the claimant 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 claimant 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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