United States District Court, D. Arizona
Bernardo P. Velasco United States Magistrate Judge
Joseph Gonzalez filed the instant action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) seeking
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security. The Magistrate Judge has jurisdiction over this
matter pursuant to the parties' consent under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). (Doc. 13.) The matter is now fully briefed
before this Court. (Docs. 15-18.) For the following reasons,
the Court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and
remands for further proceedings consistent with this Order.
April 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI
Application for Supplemental Security Income on May 7, 2015.
(Administrative Record (AR) 15, 208-16.) Plaintiff alleged
disability as of February 9, 2015 due to arthritis,
intellectual disorder, learning disability, and attention
deficit disorder. (AR 233.) Plaintiff's application was
initially denied on August 14, 2015 (AR 59-72), and upon
reconsideration on November 24, 2015 (AR 87-103). After
requesting a hearing (AR 137-38), on April 5, 2017, Plaintiff
testified before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (AR
34-56). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 2,
2017. (AR 15-28.) The Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's
Request for Review on December 5, 2017 (AR 1-3), making the
ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final for the
purposes of review.
filed the instant action on January 8, 2018. Plaintiff first
claims that harmless error occurred when the ALJ failed to
consider the opinion of vocational expert Philip Shapiro, MS,
CVE, CRC. (Doc. 16 at 2.) Second, the ALJ erred because she
failed to account for Plaintiff's synostosis in his left
arm in the RFC. Id. Because the Court finds that the
ALJ committed harmful legal error by not evaluating Mr.
Shapiro's opinion, it does not reach Plaintiff's
argument that the ALJ failed to account for Plaintiff's
ability to rotate his arm due to synostosis.
Summary of ALJ's Findings
burden of demonstrating disability lies with a claimant.
Valentine v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 574
F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). To do so, a claimant must show
that a physical or mental impairment precludes substantial
gainful activity, and it is anticipated that this impairment
will either result in death or last continuously for at least
a year. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1).
determines whether a claimant is disabled through a five-step
sequential evaluation. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920. A claimant must establish: (1) she has not
performed substantial gainful activity since the alleged
disability onset date (“step one”); (2) she has a
severe impairment(s) (“step two”); and (3) her
impairment(s) meets or equals the listed impairment(s)
(“step three”). Id. “If the
claimant satisfies these three steps, then the claimant is
disabled and entitled to benefits. If the claimant has a
severe impairment that does not meet or equal the severity of
one of the ailments listed[, ] . . . the ALJ then proceeds to
step four, which requires the ALJ to determine the
claimant's . . . RFC.” Dominguez v.
Colvin, 808 F.3d 403, 405 (9th Cir. 2015). “After
developing the RFC, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant can perform past relevant work.” Id.
Then, at stage five, “the government has the burden of
showing that the claimant could perform other work existing
in significant numbers in the national economy given the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience.” Id.; 20 C.F.R. §§
case, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 9,
2015. (AR 18.)
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe
impairments, including cervical stenosis, arthritis,
intellectual disorder, attention deficit disorder, and
depression. (AR 18.)
the ALJ decided-at step three-that the Plaintiff's
impairments did not meet or equal the listed impairments
either singularly or in combination. Id. The ALJ
considered Listings 12.04, 12.05, and 12.11 in her
determination, and found that under the B criteria of these
listings, Plaintiff suffered moderate limitations in
understanding, remembering, or applying information; and
concentration, persistence, and pace. (AR 19.) The ALJ
further found only mild limitations in social interactions,
adapting and personal management. (AR 19.) The ALJ found
Plaintiff had not met the severity needed for a listed
impairment because he did not have two marked limitations or
one extreme limitation. (AR 19.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff
had failed to meet the paragraph C criteria as well.
four, the ALJ stated that given the limiting effects of her
ailments, Plaintiff's RFC permitted light work with
occasional ladder climbing, crawling, and reaching overhead
bilaterally. (AR 20.) Furthermore, Plaintiff could
understand, remember, and perform simple tasks. Id.
But, based on this assessment, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff could not perform past relevant work because
Plaintiff's abilities did not meet the parameters set in
the RFC. (AR 26.)
at step five, given Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and
work experience, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled and that work for Plaintiff existed in the national
economy as a hand packager, garment sorter, or stock checker.
Plaintiff's Background, Statements, and ...