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Wendelin v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 11, 2014

JACOB E. WENDELIN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant

For Jacob E Wendelin, Plaintiff: Laura E Krank, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Rohlfing and Kalagian LLP, Long Beach, CA.

For Carolyn W Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Assistant U.S. Attorney LA-CV, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of U.S. Attorney, Los Angeles, CA; Assistant U.S. Attorney LA-SSA, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the General Counsel for Social Security Adm., San Francisco, CA; Paul H Sachelari, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of U.S. Attorney, San Francisco, CA.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SHERI PYM, United States Magistrate Judge.

I.

INTRODUCTION

On October 31, 2013, plaintiff Jacob E. Wendelin filed a complaint against the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (" Commissioner"), seeking a review of a denial of a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (" DIB"), and supplemental security income (" SSI"). 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 issues for decision: (1) whether the administrative law judge (" ALJ") and Appeals Council properly considered the opinions of treating physicians Dr. Guia Montenegro and Dr. W. Edison Houpt Jr., which were submitted after the ALJ's hearing decision, and whether this new evidence requires remand; and (2) whether the ALJ properly considered lay witness testimony. Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint (" P. Mem.") at 4-10; Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Answer (" D. Mem.") at 2-6.

Having carefully studied the parties' written submissions, the Administrative Record (" AR"), the decision of the ALJ, and the Appeals Council's denial, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the Appeals Council erred in failing to consider the opinion of Dr. Houpt, the new evidence including Dr. Montenegro's opinion requires remand, and the ALJ failed to properly consider lay testimony. Therefore, the court 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 29 years old on his alleged disability onset date, is a high school graduate. AR at 167, 221. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a shipping clerk and laborer/store. Id. at 123-24.

On January 15, 2008, plaintiff protectively filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI due to a head injury and learning disability. Id. at 131-32, 180. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially. Id. at 139-42.

On August 5, 2010 and September 2, 2010, plaintiff again filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI, alleging an onset date of October 30, 2008, due to traumatic brain injury, bipolar disease, depression, and attention deficit disorder.[1] Id. at 133-34, 217, 221. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications initially and upon reconsideration, after which he filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 144-47, 150-55.

On December 29, 2011, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified before the ALJ. Id. at 74-130. Medical expert Dr. Joseph Malancharuvil, vocational expert Ronald Hatakeyama, and plaintiff's father also provided testimony. See id. On January 20, 2012, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim for benefits. Id. at 23-35.

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 October 30, 2008, the alleged onset date. Id. at 25.

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: post traumatic brain injury; cognitive disorder; mood disorder, not otherwise specified; personality disorder, not otherwise specified; anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified; and substance abuse. 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, ...


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