United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REVERSING AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND
BARBARA A. MCAULIFFE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Ethel Parks (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review
of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to
Title II of the Social Security Act. The matter is before the
Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted
without oral argument to Magistrate Judge Barbara A.
McAuliffe. Having carefully considered the
parties' briefs, as well as the entire record in this
case, the Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) is not supported by substantial
evidence in the record and is not based upon proper legal
standards. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision is REVERSED
and the case REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with
AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
December 3, 2012, Plaintiff filed her current application for
DIB alleging disability beginning January 18, 2012. AR 16,
150-153. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. AR 95-99, 101-106. Subsequently,
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). Following a hearing, ALJ
Evangelina Hernandez issued a decision on April 11, 2014
denying benefits. AR 17-26. Plaintiff sought review of the
ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council denied, making
the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.
AR 6-9. This appeal followed.
asserts that she became unable to work due to degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine, osteoarthritis of the knee,
right knee meniscal tear post-surgery, malignant neoplasm of
the skin, depression, anxiety and complex regional pain
syndrome (“CRPS”), also known as reflex
sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (“RSDS” or
“RSD”). (Doc. 19 at 3).
March 2014 hearing, Plaintiff testified that she believed she
could not work because of severe pain in her lower
extremities. AR 34-35. She testified that she had knee pain
despite surgery. AR 35. She estimated that, with medication,
her pain was 8/10, and that she took medication daily. AR 35.
Her pain, she claimed, was unbearable if she did not take
medication. AR 36. Plaintiff testified that she woke up with
pain of 8 and spent the day between 8 and 10. AR 36. She
testified that she took short walks with a cane for around
200 feet before needing to take a 10-minute break. AR 36-37.
She said she had occasional swelling but it was usually pain.
AR 37. Plaintiff also testified that she experienced low back
pain, which was a 5 or 6 out of 10. AR 37.
asked about her daily activities, Plaintiff testified she
could shower by herself. AR 55. She testified that she
elevated her leg to hip level when sitting, around 80% of the
time. AR 57. Plaintiff testified that she also spent time
sitting outside and resting, and playing games on her phone.
AR 40. She said she watched some television, but nothing
lengthy because of the amount of time she would have to sit.
AR 40. Plaintiff testified she could sit for 15 minutes at a
time. AR 40-41. Plaintiff estimated she could stand for about
10 minutes at a time. AR 41-42. She testified that she had
difficulty sleeping. AR 41. Splitting tasks with her
roommate, Plaintiff testified that she did her
“portion” of cooking and cleaning, and would
prepare simple meals (cereal, a sandwich, something
microwaved). AR 41. Plaintiff however does not vacuum. She
also testified that she stopped driving because of knee pain,
and relied on family and friends for rides. AR 44-45.
asked about her mental impairments, Plaintiff testified that
she experienced anxiety attacks in a crowd or in loud places.
AR 38. During such attacks, she experiences shortness of
breath, excitability, irritability, intolerance, and
impatience, and that the attacks lasted 1 to 4 hours. AR 38.
Plaintiff said she experienced a couple of anxiety attacks
per week, with more during stressful times, including that
she was having one during the hearing. AR 38-39. Plaintiff
also experience depression, which she testified had increased
because of her physical condition. AR 50. She also testified
that she had problems with short-term memory such as
forgetting to take pills. AR 43.
asked about her abilities despite her impairments, Plaintiff
testified that could bend at the waist with difficulty, could
not kneel, had difficulty using ladders and stairs, and did
not do stairs or inclines/declines. AR 48. She said she could
use her left but not right foot for foot controls. AR 48.
Plaintiff believed she could lift up to 10 pounds. AR 49.
Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ elicited testimony from a
vocational expert (“VE”). AR 53-55. In response
to a hypothetical posed by the ALJ, the VE testified that an
individual of the same age, education and work background as
Plaintiff who could do sedentary work, with no right leg foot
controls, never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds,
occasionally climb ramps or stairs, and occasionally balance,
stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl, could not perform
Plaintiff's past work as a real estate appraiser but
would have transferable skills to semiskilled clerical type
jobs such as receptionist and typist. AR 53-55.
entire medical record was reviewed by the Court. AR 222-908.
The medical evidence will be referenced below as necessary to
this Court's decision.
the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not
meet the disability standard. AR 16-26. The ALJ found
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
osteoarthritis of the knee, degenerative disc disease,
malignant neoplasm of the skin, depression, and anxiety. AR
18. Nonetheless, the ALJ determined that the severity of the
Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or exceed any of the
listed impairments individually or in combination.
on a review of the entire record, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a wide range of sedentary work
except Plaintiff is precluded from work requiring operation
of foot controls with her right lower extremity. Plaintiff is
unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but is able to
occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She is able to
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl.
Plaintiff must avoid exposure to extreme cold and heat, and
avoid all hazardous machinery. She is limited to work
requiring only occasional interaction with co-workers and the
public. AR 19. The ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform
any past relevant work, but that there were jobs that ...