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Robert Lawrence Fee v. Michael J. Astrue

May 10, 2013

ROBERT LAWRENCE FEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Robert Fee ("plaintiff") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") that he is not disabled under the Social Security Act, and therefore, is not entitled to a period of Social Security disability and disability insurance benefits.

Plaintiff originally applied for Social Security disability benefits on May 5, 2010, alleging that he had been disabled since March 30, 2012, due to a constellation of health issues including diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), back spasms, and morbid obesity. (Tr. 213). Plaintiff's application was initially denied. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ").

A video hearing was held before ALJ Lawrence Levey on July 26, 2011 (Tr. 18). The ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act (Tr. 18-24), and that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on November 10, 2011 when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-3). This appeal followed.

The plaintiff has moved (Dkt. #6) and the Commissioner has cross moved (Dkt. #9) for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(c). As discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the matter is remanded for the calculation and payment of benefits.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Familiarity with the pertinent facts, summarized below, is presumed.

Plaintiff was born May 8, 1953 and was 58 years old at the time of his hearing. (Tr. 253). He has a college education and a steady history of past employment, including jobs as a rewriter/translator of educational materials for teaching English as a second language, group home house parent, manufacturing shipper and receiver, thrift store manager, used car lot manager and teacher. (Tr. 80-81, 187).

Plaintiff's medical diagnoses, for which ample treatment records were provided to the ALJ, consist primarily of chronic back pain, diabetes, morbid obesity, and other health issues commonly associated with those conditions.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard for Determining Disability

A person is considered disabled when he is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to determine whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ employs a five-step inquiry:

The first step determines whether the claimant is engaged in 'substantial gainful activity.' If he is, benefits are denied. If he is not engaged in such activity, the process moves to the second step, which decides whether the claimant's condition or impairment is 'severe'-- i.e., one that significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the impairment is not severe, benefits are denied. If the impairment is severe, the third step determines whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal those set forth in the 'Listing of Impairments'. . . contained in subpart P, appendix 1, of the regulations. . . . If the claimant's impairments are not listed, the process moves to the fourth step, which assesses the individual's 'residual functional capacity' (RFC); this assessment measures the claimant's capacity to engage in basic work activities. If the claimant's RFC permits him to perform his prior work, benefits are denied. If the ...


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