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Cardenas v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 27, 2015

CESAR DOMINIC CARDENAS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER PARTIALLY GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL AND REMANDING ACTION FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

STANLEY A. BOONE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Cesar Dominic Cardenas ("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 arising from a heart attack. 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.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits on February 28, 2011. (AR 138.) Plaintiff's application was denied on May 9, 2011. (AR 81.) Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the denial on or around June 24, 2011. (AR 78.) Plaintiff's request for reconsideration was denied on October 19, 2011. (AR 88.) Plaintiff requested a hearing on or around December 15, 2011. (AR 93.)

On October 9, 2012, a hearing took place before Administrative Law Judge Sharon L. Madsen ("the ALJ"). (AR 32-58.) On January 4, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff to be not disabled. (AR 14-26.) Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision on or around February 4, 2013. (AR 11.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 19, 2013. (AR 4-6.)

A. Plaintiff's Hearing Testimony[1]

Plaintiff was born on December 16, 1974. (AR 36.) Plaintiff is 5'10" and weighs 290 pounds. (AR 36.) Plaintiff is married with four children, ranging from 15 months old to 15 years old. (AR 36.) Plaintiff's wife is on disability. (AR 36.) Plaintiff can drive a car. (AR 36.) Plaintiff graduated from high school and attended a couple of years of general education schooling and vocational training for truck driving. (AR 37.)

Plaintiff does not need help with personal care. (AR 37.) Plaintiff does "very little" household chores. (AR 37.) Plaintiff does not cook and goes shopping "very seldom[ly]." (AR 37.) Plaintiff visits family who lives close by. (AR 37-38.) Plaintiff used to fish, but not so much lately. (AR 38.) Plaintiff used to play softball. (AR 38.)

On a typical day, Plaintiff will help the kids get ready and do "little stuff around the house." (AR 38.) Plaintiff usually ends up going to his sister's house, which is a block away. (AR 38.) Plaintiff watches "[v]ery little TV" and he listens to music. (AR 38.) Plaintiff usually takes naps around 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. (AR 38.)

Plaintiff worked in trailer manufacturing and repair in 1997 and 1998. (AR 38.) Plaintiff's job involved welding. (AR 38.) Plaintiff worked for Butler Manufacturing welding buildings. (AR 39.) Plaintiff would have to lift 50 to 120 pounds. (AR 39-40.) In 2010, Plaintiff worked as a truck driver. (AR 40.) Plaintiff drove for 90 percent of the time and would load or unload trucks once in a while. (AR 40.)

Plaintiff sees a cardiologist every three to four months. (AR 41.) Plaintiff receives adjustments to his pacemaker every three months. (AR 41.) Plaintiff described his memory and fatigue as the two biggest medical issues. (AR 41.) Plaintiff takes Carvedilol for his heart and Glipizide and Metformin for his diabetes. (AR 43.) Plaintiff takes Lisinopril for his blood pressure. (AR 43.) Plaintiff also takes aspirin. (AR 43.) Plaintiff described trouble with his memory, such as forgetting conversations within an hour or two and repeating things in conversation. (AR 44.)

Plaintiff estimated that he could lift 20 to 40 pounds. (AR 44.) Plaintiff can stand for about two hours. (AR 44-45.) Plaintiff does "some" walking, going down the block from one house to another. (AR 45.) Plaintiff stated that he is "very limited" in climbing stairs. (AR 45.) Plaintiff estimated that he could sit for thirty minutes to an hour before he would have to get up and do something else. (AR 48.) Plaintiff estimated that he would have to take 20-30 minute breaks before getting back on task. (AR 49.)

Plaintiff suffered a heart attack in 2010. (AR 45-46.) Plaintiff stated that the deprivation of oxygen to his brain during the episode caused memory and cognition problems. (AR 46.) Plaintiff stated that if he were told to perform three tasks at work, he would forget the second and third tasks by the time he was done performing the first. (AR 46.) Plaintiff has trouble performing detailed work due to his memory. (AR 47.) Plaintiff relies on his children to remember to take his medication. (AR 47.)

B. VE Testimony

Thomas Dachelet testified as the vocational expert ("the VE") at the hearing before the ALJ. (AR 53.) The VE classified Plaintiff's past work as "trucking" (medium, SVP 4, semi-skilled). (AR 54.) The VE noted that the unloading and loading done by Plaintiff was medium to heavy work. (AR 54.) Plaintiff also worked as a "welder, combination welder" (medium SVP 6, skilled). (AR 54.) The VE noted that this work was very heavy as performed. (AR 54.) The VE also indicated that there was some transferability of skills. (AR 54.)

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

• Same age, education, and work background as Plaintiff;
• Can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; and
• Can sit four hours and stand or walk four hours.

(AR 54.) The VE testified that a person with such limitations could not perform Plaintiff's past work, but could perform other work, approximately one-third of all the jobs performed at the light level. (AR 54-55.) The VE specifically identified jobs such as "packing line worker, " "garment sorter, " and "ampule filler." (AR 55.)

The ALJ presented the VE with the following second set of hypothetical limitations:

• Same age, education, and work background as Plaintiff;
• Can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently;
• Can sit for six hours and stand or walk for two hours;
• Can only occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, climb, and kneel;
• Can frequently balance; and
• Must avoid working at heights or around dangerous machinery.

(AR 55.) The VE testified that a person with such limitations could perform the full range of sedentary, unskilled jobs. (AR 55.) The VE specifically identified jobs such as "leaf tier, " "ampule sealer, " and "weight tester." (AR 55.)

The ALJ presented the VE with a third set of hypothetical limitations, which was identical to the second set but with the additional limitation of only being able to perform simple, routine tasks. (AR 56.) The VE testified that the additional limitation would not cause any change. (AR 56.)

The ALJ presented the VE with a fourth set of hypothetical limitations, which was identical to the third set but with the additional limitation that the person requires additional supervision and two to four breaks of 30 minutes per day. (AR 56.) The VE testified that such a person could not perform any jobs. (AR 56.)

Plaintiff's attorney presented the VE with a fifth set of hypothetical limitations:

• Same age, education, and work background as Plaintiff;
• Must take a 45 to 60 minute nap and a 20 minute nape for to five days a week;
• Has difficulty with memory;
• Cannot remember simple instructions for more than ...

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