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Palomino v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 20, 2015

KIMBERLY JEAN PALOMINO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SHERI PYM, Magistrate Judge.

I.

INTRODUCTION

On February 10, 2014, plaintiff Kimberly Jean Palomino filed a complaint against defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), seeking a review of a denial of 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. ยง 636(c). The court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

Plaintiff presents two issues for decision: (1) whether there was an apparent conflict between the testimony of the vocational expert ("VE") and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"), such that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred at step five in relying on the VE's testimony; and (2) whether the jobs the ALJ determined plaintiff capable of performing require a level of education that plaintiff does not have. Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint ("P. Mem.") at 7-10; Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Answer ("D. Mem.") at 2-8.

Having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' written submissions, the Administrative Record ("AR"), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ erred at step five. Although there was no need for the ALJ to develop the vocational issues in this case with respect to plaintiff's level of education, the ALJ erred in failing to resolve the apparent conflict between plaintiff's manual limitations and the jobs the VE found plaintiff capable of performing, as defined in the DOT. The court therefore reverses the Commissioner's decision denying benefits and remands for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

II.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was forty-two years old on her alleged disability onset date, has a ninth or tenth grade education. AR at 42, 161, 173. She has past relevant work experience in retail. Id. at 44, 49, 173-74.

On October 7, 2010, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she has been disabled since June 9, 2010, due to type 2 diabetes, neuropathy, heart palpitations, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, nerve damage, carpal tunnel in the right arm, hyperlipidemia, severe acid reflux, insomnia, and high cholesterol. Id. at 149-50, 161-68, 172. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which she filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 85-89, 93-104.

On July 16, 2010, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified before the ALJ. Id. at 37-55. The ALJ also heard testimony from a medical expert and VE David A. Rinehart. Id. at 55-81.

On August 7, 2012, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim for benefits. Id. at 17-31. Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the decision, which the Appeals Council denied. Id. at 1-6, 12-13.

Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 9, 2010, the alleged onset date. Id. at 19.

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: morbid obesity, poorly controlled diabetes mellitus with neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome with right carpal tunnel release, heart palpitations, ...


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