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Jeffrey Eugene Smalling v. Commissioner of Social Security

December 6, 2012


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



Pending before the Court is plaintiff Jeffrey Eugene Smalling'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. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

Plaintiff filed his complaint on June 24, 2011. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff filed his summary judgment motion on January 23, 2012. ( Doc. 14.) The Commissioner filed his summary judgment cross-motion and opposition on March 19, 2012. (Doc. 18.) Plaintiff filed his Reply Brief on March 27, 2012. (Doc. 19.) Both parties have consented to conduct all proceedings before the assigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Doc. 4, 11.) 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. Having considered the administrative record and the parties' briefs, the Court issues the following order.


A. Overview of Administrative Proceedings

On July 23, 2007, Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). (Administrative Record, "AR," at 59-74.) Plaintiff's application was denied on initial review and again on reconsideration. Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ"). On January 25, 2010, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified before the ALJ. (AR at 30-58.) In a decision dated February 11, 2010, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (AR at 9-28.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR at 1-6.) Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

B. Medical History

The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. (AR at 211-477.) The Court will refer to the medical evidence to the extent it is necessary to the Court's decision.

C. Testimony Presented At the Administrative Hearing

Plaintiff was born on February 14, 1965. (AR at 35.) Plaintiff completed a twelfth grade education and currently lives with his son, who provides financial assistance. (AR at 35, 49.) Plaintiff has not worked since some time in 1993 or 1994. (AR at 35.) Plaintiff's last employment activity was as a maintenance worker at a church. (AR at 35.) Prior to that, Plaintiff worked as a forklift operator in a packing house. Id.

Regarding his impairments, Plaintiff testified that his diabetes was "out of control," causing numbness in his hands and feet. (AR at 37.) Plaintiff reported depression, social phobia, hip and knee pain, and muscle spasms in his back and neck. (AR at 37, 39, 47.) Plaintiff testified that he was taking medications that were "helpful to an extent," but resulted in side effects, including vomiting, slow movement, roaring in his head, twitching muscles, and sleeping for extended durations. (AR at 37, 42, 49.)

Additionally, Plaintiff testified that he could lift 10 pounds, but dropped objects due to weakness in his hands. (AR 43.) Plaintiff reported a capacity to stand 30 minutes at a time, sit 30 minutes at a time, and walk a couple of blocks before needing to sit down. (AR at 43-44.) Plaintiff stated that he used a cane for walking when in "unknown territory," but admitted that a doctor never prescribed him the cane. (AR at 38, 44.) Plaintiff also testified that he needed to lay down or recline 2-3 hours in an 8-hour period. (AR at 45.)

D. ALJ Findings

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Specifically, the ALJ found that:

1. Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: neuropathy, diabetes mellitus, degenerative disc disease, right hip bursitis, depressive disorder and obesity;

2. 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;

3. Plaintiff has the following residual functional capacity: Plaintiff can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; Plaintiff can sit, stand and walk 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; Plaintiff can perform simple repetitive tasks; maintain attention, concentration, persistence and pace; relate to and interact with others; adapt to usual changes in work settings; and adhere to safety rules;

4. Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work;

5. Considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform.

6. Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since July 23, 2007, the date the application was filed. (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. § 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 claimant is not disabled if the Secretary applied the proper legal standards, and if the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).

In order to qualify for benefits, a claimant must establish that she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c (a)(3)(A). A claimant must show that she has a physical or mental impairment of such severity that she is not only unable to do her previous work, but cannot, considering her age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. Quang Van Han v. Bowen, 882 F.2d 1453, 1456 (9th Cir. 1989). The burden is on the claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990).

Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred for the following reasons: (1) The ALJ failed to discuss the opinions of state agency physician, Dr. Roger Fast; (2) The ALJ erred in failing to adopt the opinion of treating physician, Dr. S.N. Shubhaker; (3) the ALJ failed to adopt all of the limitations recommended by examining physician, Dr. Vinay Buttan; (4) the ALJ failed to adopt the opinions of ...

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