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Gomez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

June 21, 2017

SOCORRO GOMEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK United States Magistrate Judge.

         Socorro Gomez (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case is remanded for further proceedings.

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on February 25, 2013. Administrative Record (“AR”) 71, 138-39, 155-56. After her application was denied, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 80-81. A hearing was held on May 5, 2014, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified with the assistance of an interpreter. AR 25, 38-62. The ALJ also called a vocational expert (“VE”) to testify about Plaintiff's past relevant work. AR 38-41, 57-61. In a written decision issued on July 1, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits. AR 19-37. In reaching his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of right carpal tunnel syndrome status-post surgical release, bilateral shoulder rotator cuff syndrome, and cervical and lumbar strains. AR 27. The ALJ found that despite those impairments, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with several additional limitations. AR 28. Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a “seamstress (sewing machine operator)” as it is generally performed. AR 33. He therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 33-34.

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. AR 16-17. On March 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-9. This action followed.

         II.

         DISCUSSION

         The parties dispute whether the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work. See Joint Stipulation (“JS”) at 4.

         A. Relevant Facts

         At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that she has a sixth-grade education, reads and writes in Spanish, and can read and write in English “[a] little bit.” AR 43. Plaintiff stopped working as a seamstress in August 2010 as the result of arm and wrist injuries. AR 44-45.

         The ALJ presented the VE with a series of hypotheticals related to Plaintiff's RFC. AR 58-59. The VE responded that a person with Plaintiff's limitations could perform Plaintiff's past relevant work, which he referred to as either a seamstress or sewing-machine operator, Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) 787.682-046. Id. But he did not specify whether such a person could perform Plaintiff's past work as actually or generally performed. See Id.

         In his decision, the ALJ found that, “based on her written reports and testimony, ” Plaintiff's past relevant work was “actually performed . . . as sedentary to medium work.” AR 33. Thus, Plaintiff's past work as actually performed was precluded by her RFC, which limited her to light work. See AR 28. But the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony in concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled because she could perform her past work as generally performed:

In accordance with SSR 00-4p, the undersigned has determined that the testimony provided by the vocational expert is consistent with the information contained in the DOT. [ΒΆ] Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the undersigned finds that [Plaintiff] is able to perform her past ...

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