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Staker v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

December 9, 2014

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

Matthew Staker, Plaintiff, Pro se, Santa Cruz, CA.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant: Alex Gene Tse, U.S. Attorneys Office, San Francisco, CA; Jennifer Ann Kenney, Social Security Administration, San Francisco, CA.


Ronald M. Whyte, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Matthew A. Staker brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c) for judicial review of the final decision by an administrative law judge (" ALJ") finding plaintiff disabled as of June 15, 2011. Staker contends that the proper disability onset date is June 1, 2008. Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Having considered the papers submitted by the parties and the entire administrative record, and for the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS the defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment and DENIES plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.


A. Procedural Background

On November 24, 2009, plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (" DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income (" SSI") under Title XVI, alleging disability beginning November 30, 2005 due to " Type III Spinal AVM." Certified Administrative Record (" AR") 18, 123-33, 183. Defendant denied plaintiff's applications on March 19, 2010. Id. at 98-102. Upon reconsideration, on August 19, 2010, defendant again denied plaintiff's applications. Id. at 105-110.

On September 15, 2010, plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing before an ALJ. AR 111-12. Two administrative hearings were held in which plaintiff appeared without counsel. Id. at 59-90. At the first hearing, on August 16, 2011, plaintiff requested his onset of disability date be amended to June 1, 2008. Id. at 74. On February 9, 2012, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding plaintiff disabled as of June 15, 2011. Id. at 18-30. Plaintiff's last insured date was June 30, 2010, and thus plaintiff has been eligible for SSI as of the found date of disability. Id. at 19, 211. On March 1, 2013 the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Id. at 5-9. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c).

B. The ALJ's Findings and Analysis

Plaintiff testified to an alleged severe impairment due to persistent, acute back and chest pain which prevent him from sitting and standing for prolonged periods of time. AR 65-66. Plaintiff also alleged that he stopped working in 2008 as a result of this pain. Id. at 64. The ALJ addressed whether plaintiff was disabled under sections 216(i), 223(d) and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act, applying the five-step sequential evaluation process established by the Social Security Administration for determining whether an individual is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a), 416.920(a).[1] At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 30, 2005, and thus the ALJ continued to step two. AR 21. At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff suffers from severe medical impairments, specifically back pain status post laminectomy and removal of hemangiomas. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, so he proceeded to step four. At step four, the ALJ found plaintiff disabled as of June 15, 2011. AR 27. Prior to June 15, 2011, the ALJ found plaintiff had residual functional capacity to perform light work so long as plaintiff was " limited to frequent stooping, kneeling, and climbing of stairs and ramps" and " avoid[ed] crawling . . . unprotected heights . . . climbing of ladders/ropes/scaffolds . . . [and] very loud noise." Id. at 21. In making this finding, the ALJ stated that he took into account all the symptoms that can be reasonably accepted as consistent with objective medical evidence and considered opinion evidence as required by 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1527 and 416.927 and SSRs 96-2p, 96-5p, 96-6p, and 06-3p, Id.

In evaluating plaintiff's symptoms, the ALJ followed a two-step process: first he determined whether there was an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment (i.e., an impairment that can be shown by medically acceptable diagnostic techniques to be reasonably expected to produce the claimant's pain or symptoms); and, second, he evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the plaintiff's symptoms to determine the extent to which they limit his ability to perform basic work activities. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's " medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms" but that " [his] statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible prior to June 15, 2011, to the extent they are inconsistent with the residual functional capacity assessment." AR 27. The ALJ noted what he considered to be significant inconsistencies among plaintiff's testimony, statements made in his application materials, and objective medical evidence, which he found undermined the credibility of his subjective statements and complaints. Id. at 23-27.[2]

At step four, the ALJ compared plaintiff's residual functional capacity with the demands of his past relevant work prior to November 30, 2005--plaintiff's initially alleged disability date--and relying on Vocational Expert (" VE") testimony, concluded that plaintiff was not capable of performing his past relevant work. AR 28. However, the ALJ also concluded that prior to June 15, 2011, plaintiff was capable of performing a " full or wide range of light work [which] includes the capacity to perform sedentary work as well, " and thus was not disabled prior to this date. AR 29. The ALJ then concluded that beginning on June 15, 2011, plaintiff was incapable of performing any jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

C. Plaintiff's Age, Educational, and Vocational History

Plaintiff was born on September 7, 1971. AR 123. Plaintiff completed two years of college on June 1994, but had no further education. Id. at 190. From 1995 through 1997, plaintiff was employed as a counselor at a group home supervising youths for approximately sixty hours per week. Id. at 157, 162. From 1998 to 2000, plaintiff was employed as an instructional aide at a high school assisting teachers in " all aspects of classroom maintenance." Id. at 157, 161. In this position, plaintiff worked approximately sixteen hours per week. Id. at 161.

In March 2000, plaintiff was employed at a juvenile hall working as a counselor supervising youths for approximately thirty hours per week. AR 157, 160. Plaintiff continued with this employment until January 2002. Id. From September 2001 through October 2004, plaintiff was also employed as a program coordinator at an elementary school. Id. at 157, 159. In this position plaintiff performed regular administrative tasks working approximately forty hours per week. Id.

Most recently, plaintiff was employed as an outreach coordinator at New Horizons Elementary School from November 2007 to March 2008. AR 141, 157-58. In this position plaintiff worked approximately twenty-five hours per week supervising children. Id. at 158. Overlapping with this position, from July 2007 through December 2007, plaintiff was also self-employed performing bicycle repairs and maintenance. Id. at 148, 157, 163. In this position, plaintiff worked approximately twenty hours per week. Id. at 163. Plaintiff has not been employed since 2008. Id. at 64.

D. Plaintiff's Medical History

Plaintiff initially alleged disability beginning November 30, 2005, due to " Type III Spinal AVM." AR 18, 123-33, 183. However, in a letter to the ALJ dated May 17, 2011, plaintiff requested that the alleged disability date be changed to " early 2008." Id. at 121-22. Plaintiff explained that the 2005 date was a mistake due to plaintiff's misunderstanding of the question on the application for disability benefits. Id. Plaintiff additionally requested at plaintiff's first hearing before the ALJ that the alleged disability date be changed to June 1, 2008. Id. at 74.

Plaintiff's earliest provided medical records, regarding his alleged disability, date to January 23, 2008, when plaintiff sought evaluation with Dr. Roland Sharp, M.D. Id. at 22, 470. Plaintiff reported that while performing yoga in 2001, he felt a " small pull in his right lower rib cage." Id. This injury was later aggravated while participating in soccer and martial arts. Id. The aggravated injury ...

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