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Muradyan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 31, 2017

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

          ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFF HAYK MURADYAN AND AGAINST DEFENDANT NANCY BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

          GARY S. AUSTIN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Hayk Muradyan (“Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 15). The Commissioner filed an Opposition and a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc.18). Plaintiff filed a reply. (Doc. 19). 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. 15, 18 and 19). Upon a review of the entire record, the Court finds that the ALJ did not apply the proper legal standards and the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, Plaintiff's appeal is GRANTED IN PART, and Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 18) is DENIED.

         II. FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS [3]

         Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI due to cardiac disease and degenerative disc disease on June 12, 2012, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2012. AR 236-247. The 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 Sharon Madsen's (“ALJ”) decision issued on August 28, 2014, which is considered the Commissioner's final order. See, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). AR 20-30.

         A. Issues Presented

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical evidence because she improperly rejected Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion. He also contends that the ALJ improperly failed to incorporate several non-examining physicians' limitations into the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) which if adopted, would have precluded him from performing the jobs the ALJ identified. Plaintiff requests that the Court award benefits, or alternatively, that the case be remanded for further proceedings. (Doc. 15, pgs. 6-13; Doc. 19, pgs. 3-5). The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's evaluation of the medical evidence was proper. Specifically, she contends the ALJ properly rejected the treating physician's opinion. Additionally, although the ALJ did not address some of the limitations outlined in the non-examining physicians' opinions, any error was harmless because Plaintiff can still perform the jobs identified by the judge. (Doc. 18, pgs. 3-9). As such, the ALJ's decision should be affirmed.

         B. Summary of the Medical Record

         The Court has reviewed the entire medical record. Relevant portions of the record will be referenced in the discussion where appropriate. AR 376-1207.

         III. THE DISABILITY STANDARD

         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. SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Using the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was insured through December 31, 2016, and that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2012, the alleged onset date. AR 22. At step two, the ALJ identified cervical degenerative disc disease, lumbar degenerative disc disease, coronary artery disease, angina, hypertension, diabetes mellitus type II, obesity, tobacco use, and diabetic neuropathy as severe impairments. AR 22-23. At step three, 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 20-21.

         The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a modified version of light work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(b) or 416.967(b). AR 21. Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff could lift/carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; he could sit, stand, and walk for up to six hours in an eight hour work day; he could occasionally reach overhead, stoop, kneel, climb, crouch, and crawl; he could occasionally forcefully grasp or grip; he could ...


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