United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF
PLAINTIFF OSCAR VASQUEZ AND AGAINST DEFENDANT NANCY
BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
S. AUSTIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Oscar Zuniga Vasquez (“Plaintiff”), seeks
judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denying his applications for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) and
disability insurance benefits pursuant to Titles II and XVI
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.
BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
parties agree that the Plaintiff properly exhausted his
administrative remedies and that the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's appeal. Therefore, this appeal is a review of
Administrative Law Judge John Cusker's
(“ALJ”) decision issued on July 3, 2014, which is
considered the Commissioner's final order. See,
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).AR 15-23.
Plaintiff's Claims and Issues Presented
to issuing his order, the ALJ held a hearing on April 2,
2014. AR 424-469. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Jose Chaparro testified at the hearing.
Plaintiff was fifty-one years old at the time of his hearing.
AR 426. He applied for disability benefits after suffering a
heart attack in March 2012, and claimed he was unable to work
as a result of the attack. AR 17; 301; 426. Prior to his
alleged date of disability, Plaintiff worked at Wawona Frozen
Foods as a food processor where he stacked pallets and worked
on the production line. AR 22; 427. The VE classified
Plaintiff's past work at Wawona as a composite job
consisting of several occupations including: a conveyor
feeder, a packer of agricultural produce, a produce sorter,
and a paperboard box maker. AR 457-463. On July 3, 2014, ALJ
Cusker determined that Plaintiff did not meet the disability
requirements under the Social Security Act because he could
perform his past relevant work. AR 23.
now challenges the ALJ's decision, arguing that the ALJ
incorrectly assessed the medical evidence. Specifically,
Plaintiff contends the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of
consultative psychologist, Dr. Zhang, Ph.D., and that at a
minimum, the ALJ had a duty to develop the record with
respect to Dr. Zhang's opinion. Additionally, Plaintiff
contends that the ALJ erred at step four because he
erroneously determined that Plaintiff's past relevant
work was a composite job and found that Plaintiff could
perform this work generally and as actually performed.
Plaintiff requests that the case be remanded for further
proceedings so that these errors can be
corrected. (Doc. 15, pgs. 5-18; Doc. 17, 1-9).
opposition, Defendant responds that: (1) the ALJ properly
discounted Dr. Zhang's opinion; (2) the ALJ properly
assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”); and (3) the ALJ properly assessed
Plaintiff's ability to do his previous work (Doc. 16,
DISABILITY DETERMINATION PROCESS
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).
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) and 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) and 416.920(a)(4). The
ALJ must consider objective medical evidence and opinion
testimony. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 404.1529,
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,
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) and 416.920(a)-(f).
the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not
meet the disability standard. AR 15-23. In particular, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through September 30, 2014, and that he had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 9, 2012, the alleged
onset date. AR 17. Further, the ALJ identified “the
residual effects of a myocardial infraction” as a
severe impairment. AR 17. Nonetheless, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or exceed any
of the listed impairments. AR 18.
on a review of the entire record, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform “essentially the full
range of medium work with some environmental and mental
limitations, ” meaning he: could lift or carry up to
twenty-five pounds frequently and fifty pounds occasionally;
could stand, walk, and sit for up to six hours in an
eight-hour workday; could occasionally balance; needed to
avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes; needed
to avoid exposure to unprotected heights or hazardous
machinery; could perform simple vocational directives; could
focus for two-hour increments; and could perform unskilled
work at a competitive pace and could tolerate the stress
inherent in unskilled work. AR 18. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a food
processor, which was a “composite job” consisting
of the following constituent occupations: conveyor feeder/off
bearer (DOT 921.686-014), packer-agricultural produce (DOT
920.687-134), produce sorter (DOT 529.687-186), and
paperboard box maker (DOT 794.684-014). AR 22. Given the
above, the ALJ did not proceed to step-five of the disability
determination process and found that Plaintiff was not
disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. AR 22.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the
Commissioner's decision to determine whether: (1) it is
supported by substantial evidence; and (2) it applies the
correct legal standards. See Carmickle v.
Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 ...