United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY
Nathan Alan Webb ("Plaintiff"), seeks judicial
review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social
Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant")
denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") pursuant to Titles II of the Social
Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the
parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral
argument to the Honorable Erica P. Grosjean, United States
Magistrate Judge. Upon a review of the administrative
record, the Court finds the ALJ's decision is not
supported by substantial evidence and the case is remanded to
the agency for further proceedings.
BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
filed applications for DIB in February 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of May 1, 2009. AR
199-201. Plaintiff, a veteran, was wounded while
serving in the military. He alleges that his impairments of
post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), traumatic
brain injury, light sensitivity, tinnitus, upper back and
neck compression, debilitating headaches, and short-term
memory issues prevent him from working. AR 251. As a result
of these impairments, Plaintiff contends that he has postural
limitations, and that he cannot walk more than fifteen to
twenty minutes on a good day, pay attention for more than
fifteen minutes, manage stress well, or handle changes in his
routine. AR 279-280.
application was denied on July 9, 2013, and on
reconsideration in March 10, 2014. AR 62-92. A hearing was
conducted before Administrative Law Judge Danny Pitman
("ALJ") on November 6, 2014. AR 27-61. On November
24, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff
was not disabled. AR 8-20. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's appeal, rendering the order the final
decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-3.
now challenges that decision, arguing that: (1) the ALJ
improperly considered Veteran's Affairs ("VA")
2010 and 2014 disability ratings that were submitted as part
of his disability application, and (2) the ALJ's mental
residual functional capacity ("RFC") is not
supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 16, pgs. 6-15 and
Doc. 22, pgs. 3-5). Plaintiff argues that the Court should
reverse and remand with instructions to award benefits. In
the alternative, Plaintiff contends the case should be
remanded for further administrative proceedings. (Doc.16, pg.
15). In opposition, Defendant argues: (1) that the ALJ
properly considered the VA's disability ratings; and (2)
the ALJ's RFC formulation was proper. (Doc. 21, pgs.
THE DISABILITY DETERMINATION PROCESS
qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, a
plaintiff must establish that he or she is unable to engage
in substantial gainful activity due to a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or
can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less
than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An
individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:
. . . his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of
such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous
work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
achieve uniformity in the decision-making process, the
Commissioner has established a sequential five-step process
for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1502(a)-(f). The ALJ proceeds through the steps
and stops upon reaching a dispositive finding that the
claimant is or is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1502(a)(4). The ALJ must consider objective medical
evidence and opinion testimony. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527.
the ALJ is required to determine: (1) whether a claimant
engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of
alleged disability, (2) whether the claimant had
medically-determinable "severe" impairments,
whether these impairments meet or are medically equivalent to
one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. §
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, (4) whether the claimant retained
the RFC to perform his or her past relevant work,
(5) whether the claimant had the ability to perform other
jobs existing in significant numbers at the regional and
national level. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f).
the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not
meet the disability standard. AR 20. In particular, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements
through December 31, 2014, and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since May 1, 2009, the alleged onset date.
AR 11. Further, the ALJ identified traumatic brain injury,
migraine headaches, PTSD, obstructive sleep apnea, back
disorder, a history of knee strain, and obesity as severe
impairments. AR 11. The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff
does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the
listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
on a review of the entire record, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work except that:
[Plaintiff can] occasionally lift and carry up to 50 pounds
and frequently 25. Stand and or walk for 6 hours and sit for
6 to 8 hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks. The
claimant can engage in frequent balancing, stooping,
kneeling, crouching, crawling and climbing ramps and stairs.
He should not engage in climbing ladders, ropes and
scaffolds. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to
noise, vibration, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, bright lights,
and extreme heat and cold. He ...