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Garner v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 30, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


PATRICK J. WALSH, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff appeals a decision by Defendant Social Security Administration ("the Agency"), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). He claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred when, relying on the "Grids, " he concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that the ALJ erred and remands the case to the Agency for further proceedings.


In August 2009, Plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging that he had been unable to work since July 1987, due to chronic pain and mental/emotional problems. (Administrative Record ("AR") 107-08, 120-21, 134-36, 145-47, 165-66, 175-79.) The Agency denied the applications initially and on reconsideration. (AR 42-46, 53-57.) Plaintiff then requested and was granted a hearing before an ALJ. (AR 59-63.) On October 4, 2011, he appeared with counsel and testified at the hearing. (AR 30-39.) The ALJ subsequently issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 19-25.) Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied review. (AR 5-15.) He then commenced this action.


The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing medium exertion, unskilled work provided that it did not involve any contact with the public. (AR 23-24.) The ALJ then consulted the "Grids" (i.e., the Medical Vocational Guidelines, 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2), which directed a finding of not disabled. (AR 25.) Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in relying on the Grids because the limitation to work involving no public contact is a significant, non-exertional limitation, precluding the use of the Grids. (Joint Stip. at 4-6.)

The Agency disagrees. It contends that the ALJ was justified in using the Grids because he determined that the preclusion on public contact did not significantly limit the range of medium, unskilled work that Plaintiff could do. (Joint Stip. at 8-9; AR 25.) It points out that unskilled work generally involves dealing with objects rather than people. (Joint Stip. at 10.)

The parties agree that ALJs may employ the Grids provided that a claimant does not suffer from "significant" non-exertional limitations. They also agree that there is no controlling Ninth Circuit precedent governing the precise issue before the Court, that is, whether a prohibition on any public contact is a significant non-exertional limitation. In the absence of controlling authority, both turn to district court decisions from this district and others that support their positions.

The Court adopts a different approach. Though the Court recognizes that the primary issue before it is whether the ALJ erred when he used the Grids, the resolution of that issue turns on the ALJ's finding that the prohibition on public contact had little or no impact on the occupational base of unskilled medium work. (AR 25.) Unfortunately, however, the ALJ did not explain the basis for this finding. (AR 25.) Thus, the Court is not able to determine whether this finding was correct. For that reason, remand is required to allow the ALJ to explain why the limitation on public contact has no impact on the occupational base.[1]


For these reasons, the ALJ's decision is reversed and the case is remanded to the Agency for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.[2]


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