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Hart v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 16, 2015



STANLEY A. BOONE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Donald William Hart ("Plaintiff") filed this action seeking judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for benefits under the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 1.) All parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge for all purposes. (ECF Nos. 8, 9.)

Plaintiff applied for Social Security benefits due to impairments related to a learning disability, depression, and degenerative disc disease. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's appeal from the final decision of the Commissioner is partially granted and this action is remanded to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings.



Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits on May 31, 2011. (AR 144.) Plaintiff's application was denied on July 26, 2011. (AR 79.) Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the denial on or around October 18, 2011. (AR 90.) Plaintiff's request for reconsideration was denied on February 10, 2012. (AR 93.) Plaintiff requested a hearing on or around March 20, 2012. (AR 99.)

On October 9, 2012, a hearing took place before administrative law judge Daniel G. Heely ("the ALJ"). (AR 28-48.) On October 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff to be not disabled. (AR 11-22.) Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision on or around December 14, 2012. (AR 9.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 4, 2014. (AR 1-3.)

A. Plaintiff's Hearing Testimony

Plaintiff testified as to the following facts at the hearing before the ALJ on October 9, 2012. Plaintiff's highest grade of education is eleventh grade. (AR 31.) Plaintiff last worked in 2004 for Applied Business Solutions, where Plaintiff was a cabinet installer. (AR 32.)

Plaintiff complains of numbness throughout his body which prevents him from working. (AR 32.) Plaintiff's doctor told him it was due to deterioration in the spine. (AR 32.) Plaintiff's doctor also said that he needed bone fusion surgery, but Plaintiff has not been scheduled to receive such a procedure. (AR 32-33.)

Plaintiff applied for a VA service-connected disability rating, but did not receive one. (AR 33.) Plaintiff is on parole for a sex crime and is a registered sex offender. (AR 33.) Plaintiff served a six year, ten month prison term. (AR 33.) Plaintiff is on parole until April 2016. (AR 34.)

Plaintiff is also bipolar and suffering from severe depression. (AR 35.) Plaintiff receives therapy for his mental health problems. (AR 35.) Plaintiff takes medication, which causes dizziness. (AR 35.)

Plaintiff smokes a pack and a half of cigarettes per day. (AR 36.) Plaintiff has been diagnosed with asthma related to smoking. (AR 36.) Plaintiff's doctor advised Plaintiff to stop or reduce his smoking, but Plaintiff has not. (AR 36.) Plaintiff does not drink alcohol and does not use any other drugs. (AR 36.)

Plaintiff has lived by himself for about a year and a half. (AR 37.) Plaintiff is homeless and sleeps on the streets. (AR 37.) Plaintiff receives food stamps and buys ready-to-eat food at Save Mart. (AR 38-39.) Plaintiff spends his free time at the park. (AR 39.) Plaintiff carries a cell phone. (AR 39.)

Plaintiff has been suicidal on occasion, which he attributed to his severe depression. (AR 40.) Plaintiff has suicidal thoughts four to five times a month. (AR 41.) Plaintiff has problems focusing and concentrating. (AR 41.) Plaintiff cannot concentrate for two hour periods, eight hours a day. (AR 41.) Plaintiff could not stay on task at a simple job for two hours at a time. (AR 41.)

B. VE Testimony

Howard Goldfarb testified as a vocational expert at the hearing before the ALJ on October 9, 2012 ("the VE"). (AR 42.) The VE classified Plaintiff's past work as salesperson, general hardware (light, semi-skilled, SVP 2), cleaner, housecleaner (light, unskilled, SVP 2), cabinet installer/cabinetmaker (light, semi-skilled, SVP 4 as performed by Plaintiff). (AR 43.) The VE also testified that Plaintiff would have transferable work skills from his salesperson job, which would include skills in sales, interacting with others, acting courteously and appropriately with others, sales techniques, etc. (AR 44.) The VE also identified skills in the use of basic hand and power tools. (AR 44.)

The ALJ presented the following first set of hypothetical limitations to the VE:

• Same age, education, work history and transferable skills as Plaintiff;
• Can sit, stand and walk six out of eight hours with normal breaks;
• Can lift/carry less than 10 pounds even occasionally;
• Can never climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl;
• Need numerous unscheduled rest breaks;
• Could have less than occasional public contact; and
• Would not have sufficient concentration ability for even simple, routine tasks.

(AR 44-45.) The VE testified that a person with such hypothetical limitations could not ...

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