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Gustavo Valdez Carrillo v. Commissioner of Social Security

August 23, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara A. McAuliffe United States Magistrate Judge



Pending before the Court is plaintiff Gustavo Valdez Carrillo's ("Plaintiff") motion for summary judgment and the cross-motion for summary judgment of defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of an administrative decision denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381a and 1382c(a)(3)(A). Plaintiff filed his complaint on October 1, 2010. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff filed his summary judgment motion on July 22, 2011. ( Doc. 17.) The Commissioner filed his summary judgment cross-motion and opposition on August 31, 2011. (Doc. 20.) Plaintiff filed his Reply Brief on September 15, 2011 (Doc. 22.) The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to United States Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe for findings and recommendations to Chief United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii.


A. Overview of Administrative Proceedings

On June 16, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits, alleging disability beginning December 4, 2007. (Administrative Record, "AR," at 12, Doc. 12.) Plaintiff's application was denied on initial review and again on reconsideration. (AR at 45-46.) Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ"). On September January 12, 2010, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified before an ALJ. (AR at 23-44.) In a decision dated February 24, 2010, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (AR at 9-22.) Specifically, the ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work despite his alleged impairments. Id. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR at 1-3.) Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

B. Plaintiff's Background

Plaintiff was born on April 2, 1955. (AR at 86.) Plaintiff completed a second grade education. (AR at 32.) For thirty years, up to and including December of 2007, Plaintiff was employed detailing cars. (AR at 28.) Plaintiff currently lives with his friend Lori, and spends most of the day watching television. (AR at 30-31.) Plaintiff has a driver's license, goes shopping and can cook for himself. (AR at 30-31.)

C. The Administrative Hearing

On January 12, 2010, Plaintiff testified before the ALJ regarding his claim for disability. (AR at 23-43.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (AR at 23.)

Plaintiff appeared at the administrative hearing in a wheelchair, wearing a neck brace. (AR at 33-34.) Plaintiff testified to wearing the neck brace most of the time, except when he sleeps. (AR at 34.) Plaintiff could not recall how long he had been using the wheelchair or neck brace. (AR at 34.)

Plaintiff stated that he suffers from auditory hallucinations. (AR at 35.) Specifically, Plaintiff testified that when something is bothering him, he hears voices. (AR at 35.) Plaintiff testified to having pain over his entire body. (AR at 33.) Plaintiff experienced particularly acute pain in his back, the left side of his body and his legs. (AR at 33.) However, plaintiff testified he was taking medication, which was helpful in controlling his pain, and did not cause any notable side effects. (AR at 33-34.)

A vocational expert (the "VE") presented testimony at the Administrative Hearing. As relevant to this appeal, the VE classified Plaintiff's past work as an automobile detailer as unskilled and medium in exertion. (AR at 37.)

D. Medical History

The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. (AR at 164-451.) The medical evidence will be referenced below to the extent it is necessary to the Court's decision.

E. ALJ Findings

In reaching his decision that Plaintiff has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Act, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 16, 2008 (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.);

2. Plaintiff has the following severe combination of impairments: Schizoaffective Disorder and mild degenerative disc disease (20 CFR 416.920(c));

3. Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926);

4. Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity: Plaintiff has a residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c). Plaintiff has moderate difficulty in understanding, remembering and carrying out detailed or complex instructions but would have no significant difficulty in understanding, remembering and carrying out simple and repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work;

5. Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as an auto detailer. This past work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 416.965);

6. Plaintiff does not currently have, nor has Plaintiff had since June 16, 2008 (the date Plaintiff filed his application for disability benefits), a disability within the meaning of the Act.

(AR at 14-22.)


A. Standard of Review

Congress has provided a limited scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits under the Act. In reviewing findings of fact with respect to such determinations, this Court must determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. ยง 405 (g). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla," Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971), but less than a preponderance. Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119, n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975). It is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The record as a whole must be considered, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). This Court must uphold the Commissioner's determination that the ...

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