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Kenneth M. v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 25, 2019

KENNETH M., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION REGARDING CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF NOS. 15, 18)

          ROBERT N. BLOCK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable Anthony J. Battaglia, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 72.1(c) of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

         On January 16, 2019, plaintiff filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The operative complaint is the First Amended Complaint filed by plaintiff on March 14, 2019. (ECF No. 5.)

         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 plaintiff’s 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.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 12, 2014, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability commencing January 4, 2012. (Certified Administrative Record [“AR”]) 307-10.) On September 29, 2014, plaintiff filed for SSI, alleging disability commencing January 4, 2013.[2] (AR 311-16.) Plaintiff claimed that he was unable to work due to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, migraines, fatigue due to congestive heart failure, and memory loss due to a brain aneurysm. (AR 341.) The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 186-90, 194-99, 200-04.)

         On September 12, 2015, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. (AR 206-07.) A hearing was held before an ALJ on February 28, 2017. Plaintiff, who previously had been represented by counsel, elected to proceed without counsel. (See AR 80-81.) Testimony was taken from him, a medical expert (“ME”), and a vocational expert (“VE”). (See AR 82-112.) The ALJ issued a decision on November 8, 2017, finding that plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of either benefits application. (AR 46-56.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a review of the decision by the Appeals Council. (AR 306.) The ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on November 30, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review. (AR 1-6.) This timely civil action followed.

         SUMMARY OF THE ALJ’S FINDINGS

         In rendering his decision, the ALJ initially determined that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013. (AR 48.) The ALJ proceeded to follow 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 January 4, 2013, the alleged onset date. (AR 48.)

         At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “congestive heart failure with peripheral edema, cerebral hemorrhage status post coiling, cardiomyopathy, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), obstructive sleep apnea, diabetes mellitus type II, chronic kidney disease, degenerative disc disease and degenerative joint disease with sciatica, tendinitis, migraines, and obesity.” (AR 48.)[3]

         At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the impairments listed in the Commissioner’s Listing of Impairments. (AR 49.)

         Next, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in the Commissioner’s regulations “with use of a cane; occasional postural activities; no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, wetness, lung irritants, vibrations; no hazards; and limited to simple, routine tasks from pain. (AR 51.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had no past relevant work. (AR 54.) The ALJ then proceeded to step five of the sequential evaluation process. Based on the VE’s testimony that a hypothetical person with plaintiff’s vocational profile and RFC could perform the requirements of occupations that existed in significant numbers in the national economy (i.e., information clerk and eye dropper assembler), the ALJ found that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 4, 2013 through the date of his decision. (AR 55.)

         PLAINTIFF’S ...


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