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Belman v. Colvin

United States District Court, Central District of California

November 6, 2014

DAVID E. BELMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SHERI PYM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

I.

INTRODUCTION

On September 30, 2013, plaintiff David E. Belman filed a complaint against defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), seeking a review of a denial of a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Both plaintiff and defendant have consented to proceed for all purposes before the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

Plaintiff presents two disputed issues for decision: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly rejected the opinion of examining physician, Dr. James Styner; and (2) whether the ALJ properly considered plaintiff’s credibility. Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff’s Complaint (“P. Mem.”) at 3-17; Memorandum in Support of Defendant’s Answer (“D. Mem.”) at 2-6.

Having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties’s moving papers, the Administrative Record (“AR”), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ improperly rejected a part of the opinion of plaintiff’s examining physician without providing specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence for doing so. The court therefore remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was forty-two years old on his amended alleged disability onset date, attended three years of college and received vocational training as a emergency medical technician and physical therapy assistant. AR at 53, 64, 95, 269. He has past relevant work as a physical therapist assistant. Id. at 89.

On October 26, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB due to a cardiac condition and cervical disc herniation, which was denied initially. Id. at 94, 123-26.

On August 9, 2011, plaintiff filed a second application for a period of disability and DIB, again due to cervical disc herniations and a cardiac condition. Id. at 95, 203, 268. The Commissioner denied plaintiff’s application initially and upon reconsideration, after which he filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 131-34, 137-42, 151-52.

On October 5, 2012, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 46-93. The ALJ also heard testimony from Dr. Arthur Lorber, a medical expert, and Kelly Winn-Boaitey, a vocational expert. Id. at 65-71, 88-92. On November 9, 2012, the ALJ denied plaintiff’s claim for benefits. Id. at 30-40.

Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 22, 2010, the amended alleged onset date. Id. at 32.

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: cervical discogenic disease with history of work-related cervical sprain and disc herniation; and coronary artery disease, status post one-vessel angioplasty. Id.

At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff’s impairments, whether individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). Id. at 34.

The ALJ then assessed plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”), [1] and determined that plaintiff had the RFC to: lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; do occasional overhead lifting with both upper extremities; and engage in frequent (but not constant) handling with the right hand. Id. In addition, the ALJ precluded plaintiff from: climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and concentrated exposure to work with vibrating tools. Id.

The ALJ found, at step four, that plaintiff was incapable of performing his past relevant work as a physical therapist assistant. Id. at 39.

At step five, the ALJ found that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including office helper and information clerk. Id. at 39-40. Consequently, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. Id. at 40.

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ’s decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. Id. at 3-5. The ALJ’s decision stands ...


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