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Torres v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 7, 2020

MICHAEL T. TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL (ECF NOS. 21, 27)

         Plaintiff Michael T. Torres (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying his application for disability benefits pursuant to the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge Stanley A. Boone.[1]

         Plaintiff suffers from osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, genu varum deformity, and obesity. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Social Security appeal shall be denied.

         II.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on January 21, 2016. (AR 53.) Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on March 11, 2016, and denied upon reconsideration on March 29, 2016. (AR 76-80, 83-87.) Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before Administrative Law Judge James P. Nguyen (“the ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared for a hearing on December 19, 2017. (AR 33-52.) On March 6, 2018, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 14-24.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 31, 2018. (AR 1-3.)

         A. Hearing Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at the December 19, 2017 hearing with counsel. (AR 37-46.) Plaintiff was born on February 26, 1978. (AR 37.) He was 5' 9” tall and weighed 340 pounds at the time of the hearing. (AR 37.) Plaintiff is right handed. (AR 37.) He lived with his girlfriend and his father. (AR 37.) Plaintiff completed the twelfth grade. (AR 38.)

         Plaintiff has worked part-time as an in home support provider for a friend. (AR 38, 42.) He stopped working because he was no longer able to pick up his friend. (AR 42.) When he was working, he would take her out of bed, change her, bathe her, and push her wheelchair. (AR 44.) He is no longer able to do those things due to his knee pain. (AR 44.)

         Plaintiff has osteoarthritis in his knees with the right knee worse than the left. (AR 38-39.) Plaintiff had an injection of a gel into his knees about a year and a half ago but it did not help. (AR 39.) He also attended physical therapy but that also did not help at all. (AR 39.) Plaintiff has not been offered any other treatment. (AR 39.) Plaintiff was not taking any pain medication. (AR 40.) The medication they gave him did not work. (AR 40.) Plaintiff tried Motrin and Norco. (AR 40.) He wanted something stronger to help with the pain. (AR 40, 45.) Plaintiff did get some pain pills when he went to the emergency room, but has not had any pain medication since then. (AR 40.)

         Plaintiff just started seeing a primary doctor. (AR 41.) She did not prescribe any medication, but referred him to an orthopedic doctor. (AR 41.) Plaintiff also has a deformity in his legs that he has had his entire life. (AR 41.) It only affects his knee pain. (AR 41.) The deformity causes his legs to bow a little. (AR 41.) Plaintiff has no other physical problems. (AR 42.) He took an anti-inflammatory medication for his knees. (AR 42.) Plaintiff requested surgery for his knees, but the doctor told him that he is too young for knee replacement surgery. (AR 44.) He was told he has to wait until he is 60 to 65 years old. (AR 45.)

         Plaintiff does the grocery shopping. (AR 37.) He goes with his girlfriend and waits at the pharmacy while she does the shopping due to his knees. (AR 37-38.) Plaintiff is able to shower, make the bed, and prepare meals for himself. (AR 38.) Plaintiff has no hobbies and does not spend time with friends. (AR 43.) During the day he is at home with his father and his girlfriend. (AR 43.) Plaintiff's girlfriend does all the cleaning. (AR 46.) He does not do yard work and he stopped taking his dogs for a walk because he cannot walk anymore. (AR 46.)

         Plaintiff is unable to work because he cannot sit very long. (AR 42-43.) After sitting for ten to fifteen minutes, he starts getting stiffness and pain. (AR 43.) Then he will stretch for ten to fifteen minutes and sit down again. (AR 43.) He keeps his knees elevated during the day. (AR 43.)

         Dr. Heidi Paul, a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. (AR 46-50.)

         B.ALJ Findings

         The ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

• Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2017.
• Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of August 23, 2013, through his date last insured of December 31, 2017.
• Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, genu varum deformity, and obesity.
• Through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments.
• Through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b) with the following limitations. Plaintiff can stand and walk four hours during an eight hour day; can occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and should avoid working around unprotected heavy machinery or unprotected heights.
• Plaintiff has no past relevant work.
• Through the date last insured, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed.
• Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act at any time from August 23, 2013, the alleged onset date through December 31, 2017, the date last insured.

(AR 19-23.)

         III.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To qualify for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, the claimant must show that he is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security Regulations set out a five step sequential evaluation process to be used in determining if a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Batson v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 359 F.3d 1190, 1194 (9th Cir. 2004). The five steps in the sequential evaluation in assessing whether the claimant is disabled are:

Step one: Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.
Step two: Is the claimant's alleged impairment sufficiently severe to limit his or her ability to work? If so, proceed to step three. If not, the claimant is not disabled.
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment, or combination of impairments, meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1? If so, the ...

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