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Moreno v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 8, 2017

GREG MORENO, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.




         Plaintiff Greg Moreno (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. 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] (See, Docs. 11, 17, and 18). Upon a review of the entire record, the Court finds that the ALJ applied the proper standards and the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirms the agency's determination to deny benefits and therefore denies Plaintiff's appeal.


         A. Background

         On September 3, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB alleging disability beginning June 26, 2011, due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), diabetes, knee cartilage deterioration, sleep apnea, shoulder and elbow injuries, and difficulty keeping balance. AR 17; 142; 384-392. After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 143. ALJ Sharon Madsen held a hearing on May 12, 2014 (AR 36-77), and issued an order denying benefits on June 6, 2014. AR 140-158. Plaintiff subsequently filed an appeal with the Appeals Council on June 23, 2014. AR 244-251. On August 19, 2014, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and issued an order of remand. AR 159-164. On December 16, 2014, another hearing was held before ALJ Madsen pursuant to the remand order. AR 78-110. Plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel. Id. Vocational Expert (“VE”) Cheryl Chandler also testified. Id.

         On February 20, 2015, ALJ Madsen issued a second decision once again denying Plaintiff's application. AR 12-35. Plaintiff filed an appeal with the Appeals Council. AR 8-11. On November 23, 2015, the appeal was denied, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 5-9. Plaintiff sought judicial review by commencing the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         B. The Disability Standard

         To qualify for disability 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). 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). The ALJ must consider objective medical evidence and opinion testimony. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1513.

         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)(4).

         C. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         Using the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not meet the disability standard. AR 15-28. More particularly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2013, the alleged date of onset. AR 17. Further, the ALJ identified the following severe impairments: bilateral knee meniscus tears, status post arthroscopy, and mild degenerative joint disease; bilateral shoulder impingement, “status post Mumford procedures;” lumbar degenerative disc disease and strain; thoracic degenerative disc disease; cervical degenerative disc disease and strain; obesity; a history of carpal tunnel syndrome; a history of left cubital tunnel syndrome; diabetes mellitus type II with peripheral neuropathy; major depression; and alcohol abuse. AR 19. However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listing impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 P, Appendix 1. AR 21.

         The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform less than a ...

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