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Salas v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 21, 2014

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


BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff Jesus Salas ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The matter is before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe. Having carefully considered the parties' briefs, as well as the entire record in this case, the Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to be supported by substantial evidence in the record and based upon proper legal standards. Accordingly, the Court affirms the Commissioner's determination.


A. Overview of Administrative Proceedings

On August 19, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, alleging disability beginning August 15, 2009. AR 75, 86, 187-97.[1] Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 115-19, 126-29. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 130-31. In a decision dated October 31, 2011, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 9-24. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. AR 1-8. Plaintiff then commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 405(g), 1383(c).

B. Plaintiff's Background and Testimony

The ALJ held a hearing on October 13, 2011, in Fresno, California. AR 29-54. Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Id. Plaintiff claims he suffers from a back pain and depression. AR 238-239. Plaintiff's alleged disabilities began when he suffered a work related back injury in 2001. AR 61. After Plaintiff underwent back surgery in 2002, he testified that he received a closed period of disability benefits, and subsequently went back to work until August 2009. AR 32-33. Plaintiff testified that he suffers from constant back pain that increases from lifting, bending, standing for long periods, and twisting. AR 34. Plaintiff testified that he could stand and walk for no longer than half an hour at a time due to pain. AR 35-36. In addition, Plaintiff said he suffered a bone spur in his right elbow which causes numbness, and he also experiences occasional numbness in his left hand. AR 36, 39-40.

Plaintiff is 38 years old and lives in Fresno, California. AR 22. Plaintiff has a high school education and received an Associate in Science degree. AR 22, 37-38. Plaintiff said he previously worked as an airplane mechanic and received a FAA license for airplane repairs. AR 38-39. Plaintiff also said he had owned an auto shop with his brother for about four or five years where he worked on cars, helped around the office, and took care of some of the accounting. AR 38. Plaintiff said he did the laundry, picked up his own things, cooked a little bit, sometimes made his children meals, and went out grocery shopping. AR 45-46. However, Plaintiff testified that he does not vacuum, sweep, do the dishes, or take out the garbage. AR 46-47. He said his sons helped clean the house and took care of the yard. AR 45-46.

Plaintiff told the ALJ he sleeps four or five hours a night because he thinks about too many different things. AR 41. Plaintiff testified that his ability to focus or pay attention is bad, and he has a hard time starting tasks because his "head doesn't stop" but he tries to finish them. AR 42-43. Plaintiff testified that he can probably lift up to twenty pounds without hurting himself, sit for about half an hour in an 8-hour workday, and stand/walk for about half an hour in an 8-hour workday. AR 47-48.

C. Testimony of the Vocational Expert

A Vocational Expert ("VE") testified at the hearing. AR 49-54. The VE's relevant testimony involved a hypothetical question asked by the ALJ to determine whether Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work or other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. AR 50-51. The ALJ asked the VE if an individual with Plaintiff's age, education and work experience could do Plaintiff's past work if: he could occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds and frequently lift and carry 10 pounds; could sit, stand, or walk for six hours out of an eight hour work day; occasionally stoop, crouch, climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; had to avoid exposure to extreme cold; could perform simple and repetitive tasks and maintain concentration, persistence and pace; could relate to and interact with others and adapt to usual work setting changes as well as adhere to safety rules. Id. The VE testified that this hypothetical individual could not do Plaintiff's past work. AR 51. The VE, however, testified that this hypothetical individual could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, including a packing line worker, garment sorter, and ampoule filler. Id.

D. Medical Record

The entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. The Court will reference the medical evidence to the extent it is necessary to the Court's decision.

E. The ALJ's Decision

On August 8, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff had not met his burden to show that he was disabled within the meaning of the Act. Specifically, ...

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