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Boykin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 4, 2017

FREDRICK W. BOYKIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING THE AGENCY'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

          GARY S. AUSTIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Fredrick W. Boykin (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”) Benefits pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1 and 18). The Commissioner filed an opposition. (Doc. 19). Plaintiff filed a reply. (Doc. 20). The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs which were submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.[2] After reviewing the administrative record and the pleadings, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's appeal IN PART. The case is remanded for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS[3]

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on July 29, 2013, alleging a disability beginning July 1, 2008. AR 12; 137-152. His application was denied on October 11, 2013. AR 24; 92-96. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). AR 11; 100-103. ALJ Christopher Inama conducted a hearing on August 20, 2014 (AR 38-66), and published an unfavorable decision on November 25, 2014. AR 21-30. Plaintiff filed an appeal on January 23, 2015. AR 16-20. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on April 18, 2016, rendering the order the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-8.

         III. THE DISABILITY DETERMINATION PROCESS

         To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, a plaintiff must establish that he or she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:

. . . his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         To achieve uniformity in the decision-making process, the Commissioner has established a sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f), 416.920(a)-(f). The ALJ proceeds through the steps and stops upon reaching a dispositive finding that the claimant is or is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The ALJ must consider objective medical evidence and opinion testimony. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 404.1529, 416.927, 416.929.

         Specifically, the ALJ is required to determine: (1) whether a claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged disability, (2) whether the claimant had medically-determinable “severe” impairments, (3) whether these impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, (4) whether the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past relevant work, and (5) whether the claimant had the ability to perform other jobs existing in significant numbers at the regional and national level. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f), 416.920(a)-(f).

         IV. THE ISSUE PRESENTED

         As explained in more detail below, both parties agree that the ALJ committed error in this case. The issue is whether the case should be remanded for an award of benefits, or remanded for further proceedings.

         Plaintiff filed for disability due to arthritis in his knees, shoulders, and back which limited his ability to stand and walk. AR 47-53; 174. Using the five step evaluation outlined above, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2015, and that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2008, the alleged onset date. AR 26. He also identified bilateral knee osteoarthritis - with the left side worse than the right - as a severe impairment, but found that this impairment did not meet one of the listing impairments. AR 26. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except that he could stand no more than four hours in an eight hour day; he could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; but he could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The ALJ further found Plaintiff could occasionally reach and frequently handle and finger with his non-dominant upper extremity; occasionally reach with his left, non-dominant upper extremity; but had no manipulative ...


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