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Glenn Thomas Coyne v. Michael J. Astrue

May 14, 2012

GLENN THOMAS COYNE, 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 3, 2011, plaintiff Glenn Thomas Coyne ("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") and supplemental security income benefits ("SSI"). [Docket No. 1.]

On December 14, 2011, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 9-10.]

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 his step-five 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 53 years old on the date of his administrative hearing, is a high school graduate. (See Administrative Record ("AR") at 27, 33, 165, 185.)

On October 18, 2006, Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB and on October 23, 2006, Plaintiff filed for SSI, alleging that he has been disabled since January 30, 2003 due to cirrhosis and hypertension. (See AR at 114, 119, 160, 170, 176, 179.)

On October 23, 2008, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (See AR at 27-86.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Lowell Sparks, Jr., M.D., a medical expert ("ME") and Troy Scott, a vocational expert ("VE"). (Id.; see also id. at 158, 160.)

On January 14, 2009, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 94-105.) 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 96.)

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments consisting of "bilateral venous insufficiency of the lower extremities; mild osteoarthritis of the right knee; . . . obesity . . . ; cirrhosis of the liver; esophageal varices; and peripheral neuropathy." (AR at 96-97 (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.*fn1 (AR at 98-99.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity*fn2 ("RFC") and determined that he can perform "a significant range" of light work. (AR at 100.) Specifically, the ALJ found:

[Plaintiff] is able to lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. In an eight-hour work day, he is able to stand and/or walk four[ hours] and sit six hours. He is occasionally able to balance, bend, stoop, crouch, kneel, climb ramps/stairs, and walk on uneven terrain. He is unable to crawl and climb ladders, scaffolds, and ropes. [Plaintiff] should avoid all exposure to temperature extremes; to fumes, odors, dust, gases, and chemicals; and to hazards such as dangerous, ...


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