United States District Court, D. Arizona
Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge.
Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded Plaintiff
disability benefits in March 2010, finding a disability onset
date of December 18, 2008. (A.R. 22.) In June 2012, the SSA
conducted a continuing disability review (CDR) and determined
that Plaintiff showed medical improvement sufficient to
return to work as of June 1, 2012. (Id. at 118.)
Plaintiff appealed this determination, appearing in front of
a Disability Hearing Officer (DHO), who affirmed the state
agency findings of medical improvement. (Id. at 134,
145.) Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 152.)
7, 2015, Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE) testified at
a hearing before an ALJ. (Id. at 65-115.) On
November 30, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision consistent with
the opinions of the state agency and the DHO, finding that
Plaintiff's disability ended within the meaning of the
SSA on June 1, 2012. (Id. at 37.) Thereafter,
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council. (Id. at 17-18.) The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.
(Id. at 1-6.)
November 11, 2016, Plaintiff sought review by this Court.
(Doc. 1.) After receipt of the administrative record (Doc.
12), the parties fully briefed the issues for review (Docs.
18, 22, 25). For reasons stated below, the Court finds that
Commissioner's decision must be reversed and the case
remanded for an award of benefits.
determine whether a claimant's disability is continuing
or has ceased, ALJs are required to follow the eight-step CDR
process. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f).
one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity. § 404.1594(f)(1). If the
claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
claimant's disability is deemed to have ceased and
benefits are terminated. If, however, the claimant is not
engaging in substantial gainful activity, the analysis
proceeds to step two, where the ALJ analyzes whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals an impairment set
out in the Listing of Impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. § 404.1594(f)(2). If a
Listing is met, the evaluation stops and the claimant
continues to be disabled. If not, the analysis proceeds to
three, the ALJ evaluates whether medical improvement has
occurred since the original determination of disability.
§ 404.1594(f)(3). If medical improvement resulted in a
decrease in the medical severity of the claimant's
impairments, the analysis proceeds to the next step. If there
has been no decrease in medical severity, there has been no
medical improvement and the analysis skips to step five.
four, the ALJ determines whether the medical improvement is
related to the claimant's ability to work. §
404.1594(f)(4). Medical improvement is related to the ability
to work if it results in an increase in the claimant's
capacity to perform basic work activities. If the improvement
is related, the analysis skips to step six. If the
improvement is not related, the analysis proceeds to step
five applies where there has been no medical improvement or
improvement that is unrelated to the claimant's ability
to work. § 404.1594(f)(3), (4). If there has been
medical improvement unrelated to the claimant's ability
to work, the ALJ analyzes whether any exceptions apply.
§ 404.1594(f)(5). If no exception applies, the ALJ must
find the claimant to be disabled. If certain exceptions
apply, the analysis advances to step six. If certain
other exceptions apply, the ALJ must find that the
claimant's disability has ended.
six, the ALJ evaluates whether the claimant's impairments
are sufficiently severe to limit his physical or mental
abilities to do basic work activities. § 404.1594(f)(6).
If the impairments are not sufficiently severe, the claimant
is no longer disabled. Otherwise, the analysis proceeds to
step seven, where the ALJ assesses the claimant's current
residual functioning capacity (RFC) to determine whether he
can perform past relevant work. § 404.1594(f)(7). If the
claimant has the capacity to perform past relevant work, the
claimant is no longer disabled. If not, the analysis proceeds
to step eight, where the ALJ determines whether the claimant
can perform any other substantial gainful activity. §
404.1594(f)(8). If so, the claimant is no longer disabled. If
not, the claimant's disability continues.
the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2012. (A.R. 24.)
At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
impairments do not meet or equal the severity of one of the
listed impairments in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404. (Id. at 27-29.) At step three, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff experienced medical improvement as
of June 1, 2012. (Id. at 29.) At step four, the ALJ
found Plaintiff's medical improvement was related to his
ability to work because it resulted in an increase in his
RFC. (Id. at 30.) Because the ALJ found that the
improvement related to Plaintiff's ability to work, she
proceeded to step six and determined that Plaintiff's
impairments, in combination, were severe. (Id.) At
step seven, the ALJ found that Plaintiff:
has had the [RFC] to perform light work . . . except no
climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; [he should] avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme cold and hazards such as
unprotected heights. [He] is also limited to occasional
climbing of ramps and stairs, kneeling, crouching and
(Id. at 30-35.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff is
incapable of performing his past relevant work. (Id.
at 35-36.) At step eight, however, after considering
Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can ...