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Raul R. Garcia v. Michael J. Astrue

September 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff Raul R. Garcia ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

Plaintiff died during the pendency of this appeal. (Doc. 14-1.) On March 12, 2012, the Court ordered that Plaintiff's surviving wife, Connie A. Garcia ("Ms. Garcia"), be substituted as the party of record. (Doc. 23.)

The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs,*fn1 which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sheila K. Oberto, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn2


Plaintiff was born in 1954, completed the 11th grade, and worked as a service technician and a shipping and receiving clerk. (Administrative Record ("AR") 25, 27-28, 199, 207, 250, 300.) On March 5, 2008, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning on March 1, 2007, due to cirrhosis, hepatitis C, carpel tunnel, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. (AR 199-206, 207-13, 249.)

A. Administrative Proceedings*fn3

1. First Administrative Hearing and Decision

Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI benefits were denied on May 13, 2008, and again on reconsideration on June 6, 2008. (AR 106-10, 116-20.) On July 15, 2008, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and on October 21, 2009, a hearing was held before ALJ Christopher Larsen. (AR 38-63, 122-23.) The ALJ rendered a decision on December 11, 2009, finding Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 88-97.)

a. October 21, 2009, Hearing

At the first administrative hearing held on October 21, 2009, vocational expert ("VE") Cheryl Chandler testified that Plaintiff's previous work as a service technician was a combination of machine maintenance and repair and was skilled, medium work with a specific vocational preparation ("SVP") level of 5. (AR 57-58.) The VE further testified that Plaintiff's former position as a shipping and receiving clerk was also medium, skilled, and with an SVP level of 5. (AR 58.)

The ALJ questioned the VE whether a hypothetical person could perform Plaintiff's past work if that person was of Plaintiff's age, educational background and work history, was capable of light physical exertion, and could only occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds but who could frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps or stairs. (AR 58-59.) The VE testified that such a hypothetical person could not perform Plaintiff's past work, but that there would be some transferability of skills to enable that person to perform categories of work such as assemblers and mechanics, and identified specific jobs that such a person could perform including an industrial machine mechanic assembler and a hydraulic press server. (AR 59-60.) The VE identified the skills transferable from Plaintiff's prior work to other occupations as "[t]he tools, the knowledge of the mechanical workings, power tools, being able to read diagrams, just basic mechanical comprehension some people have and some people don't." (AR 60-61.)

The ALJ posed a second hypothetical person to the VE with the same characteristics as the first, but with the added limitation that the person will require "one hour of unscheduled break time in addition to the customary two breaks and meal period associated with the eight-hour day." (AR 61.) The VE stated that the person could not perform jobs "consistently on a competitive basis." (AR 61.)

b. December 11, 2009, ALJ Decision

On December 11, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled since March 1, 2007, the alleged disability onset date. (AR 88-97.) Specifically, the ALJ found that (1) Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2012; (2) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2007, the alleged disability onset date; (3) Plaintiff had severe impairments of hepatits C, diabetes, intermittent hand cramps, and obesity based on the requirements in the Code of Federal Regulations; (4) Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled one of the impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (5) Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn4 to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand/walk and sit six hours in an eight-hour day, occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, and frequently balance, stoop, kneel crouch crawl, and climb ramps/stairs; (6) Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work; (7) Plaintiff was defined as "closely approaching advanced age" on the alleged disability onset date and later became of "advanced age"; (8) Plaintiff had a limited education and was able to communicate in English; (9) Plaintiff has acquired work skills from his past relevant work of knowledge of mechanics, use of power tools, ability to read drawings, and basic mechanical comprehension; (10) there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform and Plaintiff's acquired work skills from his past relevant work were transferable to other jobs; and (11) Plaintiff had not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act since March 1, 2007, through the date of the decision. (AR 93-96.)

2. March 4, 2010, Appeals Council Decision

Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council. On March 4, 2010, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to the ALJ for further review. (AR 103-05.) The Appeals Council found that, although the ALJ had identified that Plaintiff had transferable skills based on the VE's testimony, "it [was] unclear whether there are jobs that exist in significant numbers that the claimant could perform." (AR 104.) The Appeals Council determined that:

The vocational expert testified the claimant's past relevant work had a Specific Vocational Preparation rating of 5. The decision contains two job categories, assemblers and mechanics[,] and two specific occupations were mentioned: Assembler and Tester, Electronics (DOT 710.281-010) and Hydraulic Press Servicer (DOT 626.381-018). Both of the occupations have a SVP of 6. When determining if skills can be transferred to another occupation, those skills can only be transferred to occupations with the same or lesser degree of skill as they past relevant work. Therefore, the acquired skills from the claimant's pas relevant work cannot be transferred to the occupations identified by the vocational expert at the hearing. (AR 104.) The Appeals Council held that "[s]upplemental vocational expert testimony is required to identify if there are other occupations with the same or lesser degree of skill requirements that the claimant can perform." (AR 104.) The Appeals Council remanded the case and ordered the ALJ to:

Obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to determine whether the claimant has acquired any skills that are transferable to other occupations under the guidelines in Social Security Ruling 82-41. The hypothetical questions should reflect the specific capacity/limitations established in the record as a whole. The Administrative Law Judge will ask the vocational expert to identify examples of such appropriate jobs and to state the incidence of such jobs in the national economy (20 CFR 404.1566 and 416.966). Further, before relying on the vocational expert evidence[,] the Administrative Law Judge will identify and resolve any conflicts between the occupational evidence provided by the vocational expert ...

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