The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge
In March 2008, Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ") David Thompson denied Plaintiff Gregory Conley's application for supplemental security income. ALJ Thompson based his decision on a finding that Plaintiff was able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
In September 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Judicial Review (#3) against Defendant Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision to deny social security benefits. In March 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#11). In June 2009, Defendant filed a Motion for an Order Which Affirms the Commissioner's Decision (#15). In August 2009, Plaintiff filed a Reply to Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Commissioner's Motion for Summary Affirmance (#18). After reviewing the administrative record and the parties' memoranda, this Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand (#11).
Plaintiff filed a concurrent application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits in October 2004, alleging disability beginning January 15, 2001. His attorney subsequently acknowledged that Plaintiff was eligible only for supplemental security income.
(R. 120.) The Social Security Administration denied his application initially and on reconsideration. At Plaintiff's request, the ALJ held a hearing in March 2008. An attorney represented Plaintiff at the hearing. Plaintiff and a vocational expert, Ronald Malik, testified at the hearing. In March 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff benefits on the basis that he could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. In July 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. In September 2008, Plaintiff appealed this decision by filing a complaint in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff seeks a reversal of the ALJ's decision or, in the alternative, remand for reconsideration.
The parties have consented to the exercise of federal jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge.
Dr. Erika Altman completed a mental residual functional capacity (hereinafter "RFC") evaluation in March 2005. She noted that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in his ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, be punctual within customary tolerances, and accept instructions and respond appropriate to criticism from supervisors. She ultimately summarized Plaintiff's mental limitations in narrative form, stating that Plaintiff could perform "simplel, [sic] routine tasks." (R. 241.) Dr. Altman also completed a Psychiatric Review Technique form. She rated him as having a mild restriction of activities of daily living, mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning, moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and one or two episodes of decompensation. (R. 235.) In her narrative description, she stated that he demonstrated good concentration and judgment.
In March 2005, Dr. Sandra Bilinsky assessed Plaintiff's physical RFC, and concluded that he could perform light work. (R. 250.) In particular, she found that Plaintiff's ability to perform fine and gross manipulations were unimpaired. (R. 246, 250.)
The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments including degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and anxiety. (R. 18.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has RFC to perform light work "except he is limited to occasional contact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors. He is limited to moderately complex or detailed tasks due to his mental impairments." (R. 21.)
At the hearing held March 2008, the ALJ asked Plaintiff to tell in his own words why he was unable to work. Plaintiff testified that he could not work mostly because of his hands. He stated that he has nodules on his knuckles that are very painful and he could barely grip. He also testified that he has degenerative disc disease and can stand for only about 30 to 45 minutes at a time, sit for only about 30 to 45 minutes at a time, lift around 20 pounds or less, and walk only about four to six blocks. He could alternate sitting and standing for about four hours total. He cannot bend over. Because of his anxiety and depression, he finds it difficult to be around people. Because of his bipolar disorder, he has trouble staying with one thing, jumbled thoughts, and difficulty focusing and concentrating. (R. 371-74.)
When questioning the VE, the ALJ asked about an individual who was limited to light work, limited to occasional contact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors, and limited to moderately complex or detailed tasks. (R. 386.) The VE testified that such a hypothetical individual would be unable to perform Plaintiff's past work, but he could work as a hand packager or packaging machine tender. The individual could perform those two representative jobs even if he were limited to unskilled work, because both jobs are classified as unskilled. If the individual could engage in gross manipulation only ...