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Reed v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 28, 2016

LARRY JEROME REED, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE

          GAIL J. STANDISH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         In this Social Security Disability Insurance (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits case, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) formulated Reed’s Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) based on the opinion of an examining physician, the testimony of a vocational expert identifying a gap in the physician’s opinion, and Plaintiff Reed’s own testimony to fill that gap. Based on Reed’s RFC, the ALJ determined that Reed could perform his past relevant work and was, therefore, not disabled. Dissatisfied with the ALJ’s determination, Reed contends that the ALJ committed reversible error by relying on, and speculating as to the meaning of, Reed’s testimony instead of further developing the record by contacting the consulting physician. The Court disagrees. The record before the Court-and before the ALJ below-is unambiguous and contains sufficient evidence to support the ALJ’s RFC determination. The Court thus affirms the Commissioner’s decision denying benefits in this case.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Reed applied for DIB on February 11, 2010, and for SSI on February 17, 2010, alleging disability as of December 31, 2004. [Administrative Record (“AR”) 422-24.] The applications were first denied on June 8, 2010, after which Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. [AR 256, 263, 275.] ALJ Joel Martinez conducted hearings on January 19, 2011, June 8, 2011, and August 8, 2011. [AR 55, 103, 164.] In a decision dated August 23, 2011, the ALJ found Reed not disabled. [AR 237-48.] Reed sought review from the Appeals Council on September 8, 2011; the Appeals Council remanded the case for further proceedings on January 8, 2013. [AR 382, 250.]

         ALJ Richard Urbin held a new hearing on December 16, 2013. [AR 196.] On March 21, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, and Reed again appealed to the Appeals Council. [AR 25-27.] The Council denied his request for review on July 27, 2015. [AR 1-6.] Plaintiff appealed to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. [Dkt. 11 & 12.] The parties completed briefing and the case is ready for decision.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The ALJ’s March 21, 2015 decision applied the five-step sequential evaluation process and found that Reed was not disabled. [AR 28-44]; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(g)(1).[1] The ALJ determined that Reed had the following severe impairments: history of fracture of the left tibia; history of soft tissue injury of the right ankle; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; and degenerative disease of his left knee. [AR 34.] The ALJ found that none of Reed’s impairments met or equaled any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. [AR 38]; see also 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ then concluded that Reed retained the RFC to:

[L]ift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can sit, stand and walk one hour at a time for a total of six hours each out of eight hours. After sitting for one hour, he must stand for about five to ten minutes. The claimant requires the use of a cane, and it is medically necessary. Without a cane, the claimant can walk 50 feet, and he can use his free hand to carry small objects. The claimant can continuously reach, and he can frequently finger, handle, push and pull. He can use his feet continuously. He can occasionally climb ramps and ladders, kneel, crouch, stoop and crawl. He can frequently balance.

[AR 38-39.] The ALJ based the RFC assessment on the evaluation of Dr. H. Harlan Bleecker, a consultative orthopedist, as well as Reed’s testimony. [AR 39.] The ALJ thus concluded that Reed retained the ability to perform “a reduced range of light work.” [AR 39]; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b).

         The ALJ determined that Reed could perform his past relevant work as a Collections Manager, Credit and Collection, as it is generally performed throughout the national economy. [AR 43-44.] In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ relied on the vocational expert’s testimony that the ALJ’s hypothetical claimant could perform Reed’s past relevant work if he could stand and remain by his work station while taking breaks from being seated.

         GOVERNING STANDARD

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Administration’s decision to determine if: (1) the Administration’s findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Administration used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citation and quotations omitted); see also Hoopai, 499 F.3d at ...


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