United States District Court, N.D. California
MARK O. CROPSEY, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT.
NOS. 19, 20
M. RYU, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Mark O. Cropsey moves for summary judgment to reverse the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration’s
(the “Commissioner’s”) final administrative
decision, which found Plaintiff not disabled and therefore
denied his application for benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. The
Commissioner cross-moves to affirm. For the reasons stated
below, the court grants Cropsey’s motion in part and
denies it in part and remands this matter for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance
(SSDI) benefits on July 15, 2015, alleging disability
beginning on April 8, 2014. Administrative Record
(“A.R.”) 184-190. His application was initially
denied on September 25, 2015 and again on reconsideration on
April 7, 2016. A.R. 119-123, 125-130. Cropsey then filed a
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). A.R. 131-132. ALJ David LaBarre held a
hearing on February 21, 2017. A.R. 50-83.
the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision finding Cropsey not
disabled. A.R. 30-45. The ALJ determined that Cropsey has the
following severe impairments: major neurocognitive disorder
due to multiple etiologists (traumatic brain injury and
substance abuse) with behavioral disturbance (DSM-IV:
dementia due to multiple etiologies); anxiety disorder
(stimulant induced- nasal decongestant); and affective
disorder (major depressive disorder and bipolar). A.R. 35-36.
The ALJ found that Cropsey retains the following residual
functional capacity (“RFC”):
[F]ull range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following nonexertional limitations: assume an individual of
the claimant’s age, education and work experience who
is able to perform work at all exertional levels. The
individual is able to understand, carry out, and remember
simple, routine and repetitive tasks, involving only simple
work-related decisions with the ability to adapt to routine
work place changes. The individual is able to tolerate a work
environment where the supervisor delivers work instructions
verbally or by demonstration. The individual could tolerate
occasional interaction with the general public. The
individual can work in proximity to others, but with only
brief, incidental interaction with others and no tandem job
tasks requiring cooperation with other workers to complete
the task. The individual could work where supervisors
occasionally interact with the worker throughout the day.
on the opinion of a vocational expert (“VE”) who
testified that an individual with such an RFC could perform
Cropsey’s past relevant work as a dishwasher, as well
as other jobs existing in the economy, including hand
packager, linen room attendance, and janitor, the ALJ
concluded that Cropsey is not disabled. A.R. 43-44.
Appeals Council denied Cropsey’s request for review on
April 26, 2018. A.R. 1-7. The ALJ’s decision therefore
became the Commissioner’s final decision. Taylor v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 659 F.3d 1228, 1231
(9th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff then filed suit in this court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must demonstrate
a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that
prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful
activity and that is expected to result in death or
to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998)
(citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must
render the claimant incapable of performing the work she
previously performed and incapable of performing any other
substantial gainful employment that exists in the national
economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th
Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).
decide if a claimant is entitled to benefits, an ALJ conducts
a five-step inquiry. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. The steps are as follows:
the first step, the ALJ considers the claimant’s work
activity, if any. If the claimant is doing substantial
gainful activity, the ALJ will find that the claimant is not
the second step, the ALJ considers the medical severity of
the claimant’s impairment(s). If the claimant does not
have a severe medically determinable physical or mental
impairment that meets the duration requirement in [20 C.F.R.]
§ 416.909, or a combination of impairments that is
severe and meets the duration requirement, the ALJ will find
that the claimant is not disabled.
the third step, the ALJ also considers the medical severity
of the claimant’s impairment(s). If the claimant has an
impairment(s) that meets or equals one of the listings in 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 [the
“Listings”] and meets the duration requirement,
the ALJ will find that the claimant is disabled.
the fourth step, the ALJ considers an assessment of the
claimant’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and the claimant’s past relevant
work. If the claimant can still do his or her past relevant
work, the ALJ will find that the claimant is not disabled.
the fifth and last step, the ALJ considers the assessment of
the claimant’s RFC and age, education, and work
experience to see if the claimant can make an adjustment to
other work. If the claimant can make an adjustment to other
work, the ALJ will find that the claimant is not disabled. If
the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the ALJ
will find that the claimant is disabled.
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520;
Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-99.
testified that at the time of the hearing, he was living in a
shelter. A.R. 53. He explained that he has a driver’s
license but does not drive because he cannot afford a car.
His mother drove him to the hearing. A.R. 56-57.
testified that he last worked in April 2014 at Life House,
working with adults with developmental disabilities as a
Residential Technician. He held that position for seven
years. A.R. 58. Cropsey testified that his basic
responsibilities were to make meals according to a set menu,
prepare the residents for bed, and “d[o] activities
with them.” A.R. 58-60. He also helped residents with
dressing, grooming, and getting into and out of bed. A.R. 60.
He worked eight hours per day. A.R. 58.
to his position at Life House, Cropsey worked for 13 years
for Cedars of Marin, which serves adults with developmental
disabilities. A.R. 60-61. In his position as Instructor,
Cropsey “wrote objectives” for the
residents’ individual service plans, taught residents
kitchen and cleaning skills, and did art and music therapy
with the residents. A.R. 61, 70. He left the position at Life
House because “the responsibilities of the job became
more than [he] could handle.” Cropsey testified that
his work responsibilities triggered panic attacks. A.R. 62.
testified that he is unable to work because he
“fatigue[s] easily” and has “very bad
anxiety.” A.R. 62. He testified that he is unable to do
any job, because he believes that “[t]he
responsibilities [of any job] will overwhelm [him]” and
he will start having embarrassing panic attacks. A.R. 67.
takes Lorazepam, Risperdal, and Paxil for his panic and
anxiety, and testified that the medications decrease his
panic and anxiety and helps him “cope better, ”
but that the medication is “not very helpful as in
enabling [him] to work.” A.R. 62. Cropsey sees a
therapist, Gardner Fair, once per week. A.R. 67. He testified
that he has several panic attacks per week, lasting “a
number of hours.” During his panic attacks, he feels
“very tensed up” and apprehensive, and
experiences constricted breathing. A.R. 63. He also
“move[s] around a lot” and does not “stay
in his seat.” A.R. 63. Activities like riding the bus
can trigger panic attacks. He also has anxiety around food;
he explained “when I first started having the panic
attacks I was afraid I was going to choke.” A.R. 64.
Cropsey also testified that “I think to myself
I’m not contributing anything just through cosmic
welfare why should I . . . eat.” A.R. 64. Cropsey
experiences claustrophobia; in particular, he is
“scared to death” to use elevators because he is
afraid they will get stuck. A.R. 64-65.
testified that he has problems concentrating. He also has
problems maintaining conversation, which causes him anxiety.
A.R. 65. He is able to do his “daily chores” but
has difficulty maintaining his personal hygiene because
“[t]he thought of taking a shower triggers a panic
attack.” A.R. 65-66.
is able to go to appointments with his mother’s
assistance; she keeps track of his appointments and drives
him. A.R. 66. His anxiety increases if his daily routine
deviates or if he has “an unusual number of
responsibilities in a given week.” A.R. 66-67.
Relevant Medical Evidence
State Agency Medical Consultants
agency medical consultant J. Patrick Peterson, Ph.D.,
reviewed the records on September 21, 2015. A.R. 93-97. Dr.
Peterson opined that Cropsey can carry out simple and
detailed instructions; maintain attention and concentration
for extended periods; perform activities within a schedule,
maintain regular attendance, and be punctual; sustain an
ordinary routine without special supervision; work in
coordination with or in proximity to others without being
distracted by them; and make simple work-related decisions.
A.R. 94. He concluded that while Cropsey is moderately
limited in his ability to complete a normal workday and
workweek without interruptions from psychologically-based
symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an
unreasonable number and length of rest periods, he
“remains capable of completing simple & complex
tasks in a timely manner.” A.R. 94. Dr. ...