United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. SCOTT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Penny Elizabeth Wolfe ("Plaintiff) appeals the final
decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ")
denying her application for disability insurance benefits
("DIB"). For the reasons discussed below, the Court
concludes that the ALJ failed to make required findings
concerning the transferability of Plaintiff's job skills.
The decision of the Social Security Commissioner is therefore
REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.
applied for DIB on July 30, 2013, alleging disability
commencing March 1, 2013. Administrative Record
("AR") 13, 57. An ALJ conducted a hearing on
October 16, 2014, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by
an attorney, appeared and testified. AR 29-56.
January 15, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiffs request for benefits. AR 13-24. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
"spondylosis of the cervical and lumbar spine;
unspecified myalgia and myositis with a history of
fibromyalgia; atypical chest pain; hypertension; and
obesity." AR 15.
her impairments, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a
reduced range of "light" work with the following
additional limitations: "lift and/or carry 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she can stand and/or
walk for 2 hours of an 8-hour workday with regular breaks;
she can alternate between sitting and standing every 2 hours;
she can sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday with regular
breaks; she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl; she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; and she cannot work at unprotected heights."
on this RFC and the testimony of a vocational expert
("VE"), the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform
her past relevant work as a financial customer service
representative. AR 69-70. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff is not disabled. Id.
One: Whether the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff
can perform her past relevant work, and if so, whether that
error was harmless.
Two: Whether the ALJ failed to account for
Plaintiff's hand impairments in formulating the RFC.
Joint Stipulation ("JS") at 7.
The ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff can perform
her past relevant work.
hearing, the VE testified that Plaintiff's past relevant
work was "best categorized" as customer service
representative (financial), Dictionary of Occupational Titles
("DOT") 205.362-026. AR 48. The VE further
testified that this job is "skilled" work requiring
"light" exertion. Id. The ALJ asked
Plaintiffs counsel if he objected to this classification of
Plaintiff s past relevant work, and counsel responded,
next asked the VE three questions concerning whether a
hypothetical person with various limitations could perform
Plaintiffs past relevant work. AR 48-50. The first two
hypotheticals were not consistent with Plaintiffs RFC as
ultimately determined by the ALJ, because they posited
standing/walking for 6 hours each workday rather than only 2
hours. Compare AR 17 with AR 48-49. The
third hypothetical question was consistent with Plaintiffs
RFC. Compare AR 17 with AR 50. The VE
testified that the third hypothetical person (i.e., someone
with Plaintiffs RFC) could not do Plaintiffs past work. AR
next asked the VE if the third hypothetical person (who was
assumed to have Plaintiffs work experience) would have
"any transferrable skills." Id. The VE
testified that the hypothetical person would have
transferable "customer service skills."
Id. The ALJ asked the VE to "list" the
"other work" to which those transferrable skills
would apply. The VE identified two sedentary jobs that would
fit within the RFC described in hypothetical three: (1)
customer service representative (radio and television
broadcasting, telephone and telegraph, utilities,
waterworks), DOT 239.362-014, and (2) order clerk, DOT
249.362-026. AR 50-51.
the ALJ wrote her decision, however, she mistakenly found
that the VE testified that someone with Plaintiffs RFC
could perform her past relevant work. AR23. Even the
Commissioner concedes this was error. JS at 19. The
Commissioner, however, argues that this error was harmless,
because Plaintiff could do the other two jobs identified by
the VE as consistent with Plaintiff's transferable
disputes the Commissioner's assertion of harmless error.
Because she was a person of "advanced age" whose
RFC limits her to a reduced range of "light" work,
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ was required to make special,
additional findings concerning the amount of vocational
adjustment Plaintiff would need to make to perform the two
new jobs identified by the VE. JS at 17 n.1112; at 20-21.
The ALJ failed to make required findings concerning the
transferability of Plaintiffs job skills, precluding
a finding of harmless error.
claimant is older or assessed with an RFC that limits them to
sedentary or light work, Social Security regulations require
the ALJ to make special findings regarding the
transferability of job skills. ...