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Walker v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 2, 2015

CLARENCE WALKER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.

ORDER RE MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Clarence Walker Jr. ("Walker") seeks judicial review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his claim for disability benefits. This action is before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Having carefully reviewed and considered the papers, administrative record, and relevant legal authority, the court DENIES Walker's motion for summary judgment, and GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment as follows.

BACKGROUND

Walker previously filed an application for social security disability insurance ("SSDI") benefits on April 1, 2006. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 15.) Walker alleged that he became disabled on November 1, 2005, as a result of injuries to his back, neck, and shoulders caused by a motor vehicle accident. (A.R. 15.) The Commissioner denied this prior claim in November 2006. (A.R. 213.) Walker did not appeal, but rather, filed the current claim on October 29, 2007, alleging the same onset date of disability of November 1, 2005. (A.R. 15.) The claim was initially denied on January 31, 2008, and upon reconsideration on June 2, 2008. (A.R. 102.) Thereafter, Walker filed a written request for a hearing on July 31, 2008. Id . Walker, represented by an attorney, appeared and testified at a hearing held on October 20, 2009, before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id . In a written decision dated December 30, 2009, the ALJ found that Walker was "not disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). (A.R. 109.)

Walker appealed, and on May 27, 2011, the Appeals Council granted his Request for Review, remanding the matter to the ALJ with instructions to give further consideration to Walker's maximum residual functional capacity ("RFC") and provide rationale with specific references to evidence of record in support of the assessed limitations. (A.R. 115.) The ALJ was further instructed to obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations (of the claimant's) on his occupational base. Id . On September 26, 2011, Walker appeared again at a hearing before the ALJ. (A.R. 31). By written decision dated November 4, 2011, the ALJ denied Walker's claim, finding that he was not disabled. (A.R. 26.)

On January 4, 2012, Walker filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision. (A.R. 10.) On June 25, 2013, the Appeals Council denied the request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. On October 8, 2013, Walker brought this action seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

STATUTORY AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

The Social Security Act provides for the payment of disability insurance benefits to people who have contributed to the social security system and who suffer from a physical or mental disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). To evaluate whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act, the ALJ is required to use a five-step analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ may end the analysis at any step when it is determined that the claimant is or is not disabled. Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 504 (9th Cir. 1990).

At step one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in any "substantial gainful activity, " which would automatically preclude the claimant from receiving disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If not, at the second step, the ALJ must consider whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment which "significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). The third step requires the ALJ to compare the claimant's impairment to a listing of impairments in the regulations. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals the severity of any medical condition contained in the listing, the claimant is presumed disabled and is awarded benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

If the claimant's condition does not meet or equal a listing, the ALJ must proceed to the fourth step to consider whether the claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity to perform his past work despite the limitations caused by the impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his past work, the Commissioner is required to show, at step five, that the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, taking into consideration the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

Overall, in steps one through four, the claimant has the burden to demonstrate a severe impairment and an inability to engage in his previous occupation. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1040 (9th Cir. 1995). If the analysis proceeds to step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that the claimant can perform other work. Id.

ALJ's FINDINGS

The ALJ determined that Walker was not under a disability within the meaning of the Act from November 1, 2005, through the date last insured. Beginning at step one, the ALJ found that Walker had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date of November 1, 2005, through his date last insured of December 31, 2010. (A.R. 17.) At step two, the ALJ determined Walker had the following severe impairments: cervicalgia with radiculitis, chronic back pain, shoulder bursitis, headaches, and obesity. (A.R. 17.) The ALJ also found that Walker suffered from nonsevere impairments, including tinnitus with mild sensorineural hearing loss at 3-4 kHz, asthma, mild sleep apnea, and depression. (A.R. 20.)

At step three, the ALJ determined that Walker did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (A.R. 21.)

At step four, the ALJ found that Walker had the RFC "to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except he is limited to occasional reaching out and overhead." (A.R. 21.) After determining Walker's RFC, the ALJ assessed whether Walker could perform any past relevant work. The ALJ found that Walker had past relevant work as a carpenter, which was performed at the heavy exertion level per Walker's testimony. The ALJ opined that, as Walker ...


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