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Natasha D. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 20, 2019

NATASHA D., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SHERI PYM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I.

         INTRODUCTION

         On June 11, 2018, plaintiff Natasha D. filed a complaint against defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), seeking a review of a denial of a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The parties have fully briefed the matters in dispute, and the court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

         Plaintiff presents three disputed issues for decision: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred at step two when he found plaintiff only suffered from a severe impairment in one knee; (2) whether the ALJ erred at step two when he failed to find plaintiff suffered from a severe mental impairment; and (3) whether the ALJ’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was supported by substantial evidence.

         Having carefully studied the parties’ memoranda on the issues in dispute, the Administrative Record (“AR”), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ committed a typographical error when he failed to specify which of plaintiff’s knees had a severe impairment, erred at step two when he failed to find plaintiff suffered from a severe mental impairment, and his RFC determination was not supported by substantial evidence. The court therefore remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         II.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, who was thirty years old on her alleged disability onset date, is a high school graduate and has phlebotomy and medical assistant certificates. AR at 50, 332. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a phlebotomist, administrative clerk, and home care provider. Id. at 47.

         On March 18, 2014, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB due to bilateral knee pain, lower back pain, and depression. Id. at 50. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which plaintiff filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 74-77, 83-90.

         On November 9, 2016, plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 36-49. The ALJ also heard testimony from Carmen Roman, a vocational expert. Id. at 47-48. On December 7, 2016, the ALJ denied plaintiff’s claim for benefits. Id. at 24-31.

         Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2013, the alleged onset date. Id. at 26.

         At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffered from the severe impairment of osteoarthritis of her knee. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff’s impairments, whether individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). Id.

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiff’s RFC, [1] and determined plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, with the limitations that plaintiff could occasionally climb, crawl, and kneel, and could not work on unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. Id. at 27.

         The ALJ found, at step four, that plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as phlebotomist and administrative clerk. Id. at 30. Consequently, the ALJ concluded plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. Id. at 31.

         Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ’s decision, but the Appeals Council denied the request for review. Id. at 1-3. The ALJ’s decision ...


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