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Michael Haltom v. Michael J. Astrue

February 14, 2013


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


Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from December 4, 2007, through the date of the final administrative decision. (Dkt. No. 15.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 16.) For the reasons that follow, the court recommends that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be granted in part, the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment be denied, the case be remanded for further proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and judgment be entered for plaintiff.


Plaintiff was born on January 29, 1951, has at least a high school education, and previously worked as a trucking company manager.*fn2 (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 21, 39, 45-46, 108, 151.) On October 3, 2008, plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that he was unable to work as of December 4, 2007, primarily due to heart problems, carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, and emotional stress. (AT 14, 45-46, 145.) Plaintiff later also complained of a right shoulder injury, low back pain, psoriasis, and depression. (AT 31-38.) On January 7, 2009, the Commissioner determined that plaintiff was not disabled. (AT 14, 45.) Upon plaintiff's request for reconsideration, the determination was affirmed on June 10, 2009. (AT 14, 46.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which took place on June 8, 2010. (AT 14, 27.)

In a decision dated August 2, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from December 4, 2007, through the date of that decision. (AT 14-22.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on June 24, 2011. (AT 1-6.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed this action in federal district court on August 25, 2011, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Dkt. No. 1.)


Plaintiff has raised the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ failed to properly consider the impact of plaintiff's psoriasis; and (2) whether the ALJ erroneously determined that plaintiff could perform the reaching requirements of his past relevant work.


The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).


A. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework.*fn3 As an initial matter, the ALJ found that plaintiff remained insured for purposes of DIB through December 31, 2012. (AT 16.) At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 4, 2007, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: right shoulder tendinosis and torn rotator cuff, and osteoporosis. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 17.)

Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c). Claimant is limited to occasional reaching overhead with his right upper extremity and frequent handling and fingering ...

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