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George F. Paliotto v. Michael J. Astrue

March 12, 2012

GEORGE F. PALIOTTO, 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 March 24, 2011, plaintiff George F. Paliotto ("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. 1.]

On September 29, 2011, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 9, 10, 11.]

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") erred in her step-four evaluation. 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 55 years old on the date of his administrative hearing, is a college graduate and has a masters degree in psychology and counseling. (See Administrative Record ("AR") at 43, 47, 115, 138.)

On June 7, 2006, Plaintiff filed for DIB, alleging that he has been disabled since April 21, 2005 due to neck, back, and shoulder injuries. (See AR at 73, 83, 115, 131.)

On September 21, 2009, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (AR at 43-70.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Elizabeth Cerezo-Donnelly, a vocational expert ("VE"). (Id.)

On October 21, 2009, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 15-21.) Applying the familiar 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 of "status post C6-7 fusion[;] multi-level cervical disc bulging with right radiculopathy, status post C6-7 fusion. . . and status post C5-6 discectomy and decompression . . . and fusion[;] status post resection of right bursa medial scapula[;] and[] disc narrowing L4 through S1." (AR at 17 (bold omitted).)

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence does not demonstrate that Plaintiff's impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equal the severity of any listing set forth in the Social Security regulations.*fn1 (AR at 17.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity*fn2 ("RFC") and determined that he can perform light work except "occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling; and, rare overhead ...


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