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Ortiz v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 27, 2015

JUAN P. ORTIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT

GARY S. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Juan P. Ortiz ("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 disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II and for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 1). The matter is pending before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.[1]

Plaintiff applied for Social Security benefits due to impairments related to a seizure disorder. For the reasons set forth below, the case is remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

II. SUMMARY OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

A. Procedural History

In a decision dated February 24, 2003, Plaintiff was found disabled as of October 22, 2001, and thus entitled to disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (AR 60-62).[2] However, on September 30, 2010, after a continuing disability review was conducted, the Social Security Administration determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of October 1, 2010. (AR 152-159). Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the denial on or around October 12, 2010. (AR 160). Plaintiff's request for reconsideration was denied on August 11, 2011. (AR 192-202). Plaintiff requested a hearing on or around October 31, 2011. (AR 209-211).

On July 17, 2012, a hearing took place before Administrative Law Judge Danny Pittman ("the ALJ"). (AR 31-55). Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the administrative hearing. (AR 31-55). In a decision issued on August 24, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's disability ended as of October 1, 2010. (AR 12-22). Plaintiff filed an appeal of this decision with the Appeals Council. On August 28, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 4-6).

B. The Disability Determination Standard and Process

To qualify for benefits, a claimant must establish that he or she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). An individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:

... his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)-(3), 1382c(a)(3)(B), (D).

To achieve uniformity in the decision-making process, the Commissioner has established an eight-step process for evaluating a claimant's Title II claim and a seven-step process for evaluating a claimant's Title XVI claim. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594, 404.1520, and 416.920. The ALJ proceeds step by step in order and stops upon reaching a dispositive finding that the claimant is or is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4).

The first step for the Title II claim is to determine whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1). If so, the claimant is no longer disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1). The performance of substantial gainful activity is not a factor used to determine if the claimant's disability continues for a Title XVI claim. 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b)(5). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2010, the date the claimant's disability ended. (AR 14).

The second step for the Title II claim and first step for the Title XVI claim is to determine whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart P, Appendix I of the Social Security regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926. If the claimant does, the disability continues. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(2) and 416.994(b)(5)(i). The ALJ identified a seizure disorder as a severe impairment that Plaintiff continued to have as of October 1, 2010. (AR 14-15). However, the ALJ determined that the severity of Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or exceed any of the listed impairments. (AR 14).

At step three for a Title II claim and step two for a Title XVI claim, the ALJ must determine if medical improvement has occurred which results in a decrease in the medical severity of the claimant's impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(3) and 416.994(b)(5). If so, the analysis proceeds to the fourth step for the Title II claim and the third step for the Title XVI claim. The ALJ determined that medical improvement occurred as of October 1, 2010. (AR 14).

At step four for the Title II claim and step three for the Title XVI claim, the ALJ must determine if any medical improvement is related to the ability to work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(4) and 416.994(b)(5)(iii). Medical improvement is related to the ability to work if it results in an increase in the claimant's capacity to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 1594(b)(3) and 416.994(b)(1)(iii). If it does, the analysis proceeds to the sixth step for the Title II claim and fifth step for the Title XVI claim. The ALJ determined that claimant's medical improvement is related to the ability to work because medication controls the claimant's seizures to the point that he is able to do some of the jobs that are available in significant numbers in California and in the national economy. (AR 14). Therefore, the analysis proceeded to the sixth step for the Title II claim and the fifth step for the Title XVI claim.

At step six for the Title II claim and step five for the Title XVI claim, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant's impairments in combination are severe. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(6) and 416.994(b)(5)(v). If not, the claimant is no longer disabled. If they do, the analysis proceeds to the next step.

At step seven for the Title II claim and step six for the Title XVI claim, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and determine if he or she can perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(7) and 416.994(b)(5)(vi). If the claimant has the capacity to perform past relevant work, the claimant is no longer disabled. If not, the analysis proceeds to the last step. Based on a review of the record, the ALJ determined that as of October 1, 2010, Plaintiff has the RFC to perform work without exertional limitation and to perform simple, routine tasks. (AR 15). The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff must avoid ladders, ropes, scaffolds, and even moderate exposure to hazards, but he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. (AR 15). The ALJ then found that Plaintiff "is capable of performing past relevant work as a cleaner, industrial-janitor, " both as it is actually and generally performed. (AR 20).

At step eight for the Title II claim and step seven for the Title XVI claim, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant can perform any other substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(8) and 416.994(b)(5)(vii). If so, the claimant is no longer disabled. If not, the claimant's disability continues. The ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 21).

Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's disability ended on October 1, 2010, and that Plaintiff has not become disabled again since that date. (AR 21).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is supported by substantial evidence and (2) it applies the correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th ...


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