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Jimmy Carson v. Michael J. Astrue

July 23, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, who is represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "defendant") denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") in this case erred by: (1) rejecting the treating opinions of Drs. Leon and Khambati without providing "specific and legitimate reasons" for so doing; (2) rejecting plaintiff's testimony regarding his pain and functional limitations on factually inaccurate and illegitimate bases; and (3) failing to credit the testimony of the vocational expert ("VE") in response to hypothetical questions that reflected the functional limitations provided by Drs. Leon and Khambati. (See generally Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. No. 20 at 1.) Defendant filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Def.'s Opp'n & Cross-Motion for Summ. J., Dkt. No. 21.) Plaintiff did not file a reply memorandum. For the reasons stated below, the court grants plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denies the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment; this case will be remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings.


A. Factual Background*fn2

In 1998, plaintiff suffered complications from a 1996 gastric bypass surgery, which required a surgical repair and revision. (AT 459.) In 2001, plaintiff suffered at least two broken bones in his thoracic spine and reported suffering severe pain in his pelvis, neck, rib cage and spine. (AT 458). In 2002, plaintiff was diagnosed with emphysematous lungs, severe osteoporosis in his thoracic spine and slight osteoporosis in his cervical spine. (AT 469.) In 2003, plaintiff suffered another compression fracture to his thoracic spine and mild degenerative changes to his lumbosacral spine. (AT 475.)

An apt description of plaintiff's history prior to his application for disability benefits was given in May 2006 by Dr. Medhi, who saw plaintiff regarding a large thyroid mass:

[Plaintiff is] a very unfortunate, 46 year old gentleman with a complicated medical history, having undergone gastric bypass, he has severe osteoporosis possibly secondary to the weight loss as he initially weighed over 600 pounds. He has a history of hypertension, obesity, gastric bleeding, gastric ulcer, spinal meningitis, CVA and seizure disorder. He now presents with a large, complex cystic mass in the right lobe of the thyroid.

(AT 343.) Plaintiff continued to suffer bone, digestive, seizure, and other ailments from 2006 through 2009.

B. Procedural History

On March 23, 2006, plaintiff filed a protective application for Supplemental Security Income, which alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2003. (Admin. Transcript ("AT") 108.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration (AT 70-74, 76-81.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, and the ALJ conducted a hearing regarding plaintiff's claim on January 8, 2009. (AT 17-59.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing and testified. A vocational expert also testified at the hearing.

In a written decision dated June 10, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application for benefits based on a finding that plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a mobile home manager and the representative jobs in the national economy of cashier, dispatcher, and order clerk.*fn3 (AT 7-16.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (AT 1-4.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

C. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ conducted the required five-step evaluation and concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since March 23, 2006, the application date. (AT 12.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the "severe" impairments of: "obesity, seizure disorder, hypertension, anemia, bone disorder, and back disorder." (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments listed in the applicable regulations. (Id.)

Prior to reaching step four of the analysis, the ALJ determined plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") as follows:

[T]he claimant has . . . the ability to lift, push, and pull 10 pounds occasionally and 5 pounds frequently; the ability to walk, stand, stoop, and bend occasionally; the ability to sit frequently; the moderately limited ability to reach overhead; and the slightly limited ability to do simple, routine, repetitive tasks. The claimant has moderate ...

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