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Taddeo v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 15, 2014

FRANK TADDEO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

C. W. HOFFMAN, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

This case involves judicial review of an administrative action by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Frank Taddeo's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. Ch. 7. Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Reversal/Remand (#23)[1], filed on September 6, 2013, and the Commissioner's Cross Motion to Affirm (#28), filed on October 29, 2013. This action was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report of findings and recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C)) and Local Rule IB 1-4.

BACKGROUND

I. Procedural History

On October 4, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging he became disabled on September 23, 2010. (A.R. 110-118).[2] His claim was denied initially on March 18, 2011 and upon reconsideration on July 27, 2011. (A.R. 51-55, 65-68). On May 23, 2012, Plaintiff and his representative appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") David K. Gatto. (A.R. 7-21, 24-40). Plaintiff requested a closed period of disability from October 4, 2010 through March 19, 2012. (A.R. 10, 27-28). On June 11, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding the Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since October 4, 2010, through the date of the decision. (A.R. 7-21). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 28, 2013. (A.R. 1-6). On March 29, 2013, Plaintiff timely commenced this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Compl. #1; A.R. 1-3).

II. The ALJ Decision

The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and issued an unfavorable decision on June 11, 2012. (A.R. 7-21). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") from October 4, 2010 through the application date. (A.R. 12, Finding 1). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: status post coronary artery disease with CABG(x5) and hisotry of myocardial infarction. (20 CFR 416.920(c)) (A.R. 12, Finding 2). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926) (A.R. 13, Finding 3).

The ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing a residual functional capacity ("RFC") for the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). (A.R. 13, Finding 4). The ALJ found that the medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause his alleged symptoms, however, the Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of his symptoms of chest pain, lower leg pain and fatigue were not fully credible to the extent that they are inconsistent with the RFC. (A.R. 14). At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing his past relevant work ("PRW") as a director of media and sports announcer as they were actually performed and as they are generally performed in the national economy. (A.R. 17, Finding 5). The ALJ made no alternative step five finding. Based on all of these findings, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled and denied his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (A.R. 17, Finding 6).

DISCUSSION

I. Judicial Standard of Review

The court reviews administrative decisions in social security disability benefits cases under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Akopyan v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 852, 854 (9th Cir. 2002). Section 405(g) states, "Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action... brought in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides." The court may enter, "upon the pleadings and transcripts of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Id. The Ninth Circuit reviews a decision of a District Court affirming, modifying or reversing a decision of the Commissioner de novo. Batson v. Commissioner, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2003).

The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d 1002 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Commissioner's findings may be set aside if they are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence. Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006); see also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). The Ninth Circuit defines substantial evidence as "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n. 1 (9th Cir. 2005). In determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the court "must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); see also Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996).

Under the substantial evidence test, the Commissioner's findings must be upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. When the evidence will support more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the Commissioner's interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005); see also Flaten v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). Consequently, the issue before the court is not whether the Commissioner could reasonably have reached a different conclusion, but whether the final decision is supported by substantial evidence.

It is incumbent on the ALJ to make specific findings so that the court does not speculate as to the basis of the findings when determining if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Mere cursory findings of fact without explicit statements as to what portions of the evidence were accepted or rejected are not sufficient. Lewin v. Schweiker, 654 F.2d 631, 634 (9th Cir. 1981). The ALJ's findings "should be as comprehensive and analytical as feasible, and where ...


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