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Rangel v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 27, 2018

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




         Plaintiff, Antonio Rangel (“Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of a final decision by 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 (Docs. 9, 14, and 15), which were submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.[2] Upon a review of the administrative record, the Court finds the ALJ did not apply the correct legal standards and the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Appeal is GRANTED IN PART and the case is remanded to the agency for further proceedings.


         A. Background

         On October 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB claiming disability beginning October 7, 2013, due to posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), an anxiety disorder, panic attacks, insomnia, racing thoughts, hyperventilation, flashbacks, and nightmares. AR 29; 32; 111; 145-147; 149-153; 243-246; 264. The parties agree that Plaintiff properly exhausted his administrative remedies and that the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's appeal. (Doc.9, pgs. 6-7 and Doc. 14, pg. 2). Therefore, this appeal is a review of Administrative Law Judge Judson Scott's (“ALJ”) decision issued on August 5, 2015, which is considered the Commissioner's final order. See, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). AR 29-38.

         Plaintiff is now challenging ALJ Scott's decision arguing that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to appropriately consider Plaintiff's Veteran's Affair's (“VA”) disability rating; (2) improperly rejecting Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist's (Dr. Domb's) opinion; and (3) improperly assessing Plaintiff's credibility . (Doc. 9, pgs. 6-21; Doc. 15, pgs. 2-5). Plaintiff requests that the Court remand the case for an award of benefits, or alternatively, that the case be remanded for further proceedings. In opposition, Defendant argues that: (1) the ALJ properly considered the VA's disability ratings; (2) the ALJ's evaluation of the medical opinion evidence was proper; and (3) the ALJ properly rejected Plaintiff's testimony. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and it should be affirmed. (Doc. 20, pgs. 4-15).

         B. Summary of the Medical Record

         The Court has reviewed the entire medical record. AR 331-1539. Because the parties are familiar with the Plaintiff's medical history, the Court will not exhaustively summarize these facts in this order. Relevant portions of the medical record related to the issues raised in this appeal will be referenced in this decision where appropriate.


         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. § 404.1502(a)-(f).[3] 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. § 404.1502(a)(4). The ALJ must consider objective medical evidence and opinion testimony. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527.

         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, [4] (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 or her past relevant work, [5] 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).


         Using the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not meet the disability standard. AR 38. In particular, the ALJ found that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2018, and that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date of October 7, 2013. AR 31. Further, the ALJ identified “chronic anxiety disorder with moderate control, asthma with poor control, diabetes with poor control, ” and alcohol dependence in remission as severe impairments. AR 31-32. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment, or combination of impairments that meet, or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 32-34.

         Based on a review of the entire record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a wide range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), except that he was limited to lifting/carrying fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently, including the use of foot controls; he could perform frequent postural movements; he could not work around dusts, gases, fumes above street levels of concentration, or extreme cold; he must avoid work at unprotected heights or around hazardous moving machinery; he was able to do simple through complex work; he was limited to occasional interaction with the public and frequent interaction with supervisors and coworkers; and he was limited to low-stress occupations, defined as few changes in the work or its setting. AR 34-36.

         IV. STAND ...

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