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Dale v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 5, 2018

KRISTEN ALICIA DALE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION REGARDING CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NOS. 16, 19)

          ROBERT N. BLOCK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable Thomas J. Whelan, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Civil Local Rule 72.1(c).

         On October 20, 2016, plaintiff Kristen Alicia Dale filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and for Supplemental Security Income benefits. (ECF No. 1.)

         Now pending before the Court and ready for decision are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court RECOMMENDS that plaintiffs motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, that the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment be DENIED, and that Judgment be entered reversing the decision of the Commissioner and remanding this matter for further administrative proceedings.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 25, 2012, plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and for Supplemental Security Income benefits, alleging disability beginning on January 4, 2004 due to back problems, depression, anxiety, alcohol dependence, alcoholic hepatitis, and liver cirrhosis. (Administrative Record ("AR") 207-08, 294-306.) After her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration (AR 208, 225), plaintiff requested an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (AR 227-32.) An administrative hearing was held on November 17, 2014. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with counsel, and testimony was taken from her, two medical experts, and a vocational expert. (AR 75-124.)

         As reflected in her March 30, 2015 hearing decision, the ALJ rendered a partially favorable decision, finding plaintiff disabled as of June 1, 2013. (AR 56-67.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on August 16, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review. (AR 3-7.) This timely civil action followed.

         II. SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         In rendering her decision, the ALJ followed the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, January 4, 2004. (AR58.)

         At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: "chronic pain syndrome secondary to degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status-post L5-S1 fusion surgery in September 2005 and failed back surgery syndrome; major depressive disorder; a history of alcohol/opiate dependence; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and panic disorder with agoraphobia." (AR 59.) The ALJ found that plaintiffs impairments caused significant limitations to her ability to perform basic work activities. (Id.)

         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 impairments listed in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments. (AR 59.)

         Next, the ALJ determined that "[p]rior to June 1, 2013, [plaintiff] had the residual functional capacity[2] to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except lifting no more than 10 pounds frequently; never climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds; no more than occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, balancing, crawling, or climbing stairs/ramps; and no unprotected heights or hazardous machinery. The [plaintiff] is further limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out no more than simple, 1-2 step job instructions (SVP 2 and below) with no in-person interaction with the public, but telephone interaction is not limited." (AR 60.) However, beginning on June 1, 2013, plaintiff had the additional limitations of "be[ing] off-task 20% of the workday and [missing] 2-4 days per month due to worsening mental health issues and decreased concentration issues related to pain and side effects from pain medication." (AR 63.)

         The ALJ then proceeded to step four of the sequential evaluation process. At this step, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (AR 64.) For purposes of his step five determination, the ALJ adduced and accepted the testimony of a vocation expert (VE) that, prior to June 1, 2013, an individual with plaintiff s vocational profile and RFC could perform the following unskilled jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy: document preparer (DOT[3] 204.587-018); ticket counter (DOT 219.587-010); and zipper trimmer (DOT 734.687-094). (AR 65-66.) However, with plaintiffs additional limitations beginning on June 1, 2013, there were no jobs that an individual with plaintiffs vocational profile and RFC could perform beginning on that date. (AR66.)

         III. SOLE ...


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