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Lape v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 20, 2017

GARY LAPE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          GEORGE J. WALL, Attorney for Plaintiff.

          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney District of Oregon JANICE E. HEBERT Assistant United States Attorney JORDAN D. GODDARD Social Security Administration Attorneys for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MALCOLM F. MARSH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Gary Lape seeks judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying in part his claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). For the reasons that follow, I reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision for further administrative proceedings.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was struck by an automobile while he was crossing the street on April 22, 2012, resulting in fractures to his spine, pelvis, legs, and hips. Tr. Soc. Sec. Admin. R. ("Ti\") at 244-46, 252-60, ECF No. 9. Plaintiff had multiple surgeries and spent a month in the hospital. In his three months in a rehabilitation center, Plaintiff made excellent progress in occupational and physical therapy, and he was discharged August 28, 2012. Tr. 486. On May 28, 2013, Plaintiff underwent an additional surgery to excise a bony growth from his right hip and to remove a screw from his left femur. Tr. 637-42.

         On July 6, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI disability benefits, alleging disability beginning April 22, 2012. Plaintiffs claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). An ALJ held a hearing on October 21, 2014, at which Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified. A vocational expert, Thomas P. Weiford, also attended the hearing and testified. On December 3, 2014, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, finding Plaintiff disabled from April 22, 2012 through May 30, 2013. However, the ALJ found medical improvement of his condition that ended his disability on May 31, 2013, such that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 35-36. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of review.

         Born in 1966, Plaintiff was 46 years old on the date the ALJ found is disability ended, and 48 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff has obtained a GED, has worked in the past in various manual labor positions on a temporary basis, and has no past relevant work.

         THE ALJ'S DISABILITY ANALYSIS

         In this case, the ALJ found Plaintiff disabled for a closed period from April 22, 2012 through May 30, 2013, and that Plaintiff experienced medical improvement and is no longer disabled as of May 31, 2013. See Attmore v. Colvin, 827 F.3d 872, 874 (9th Cir, 2016) (referring to "closed period" cases as those "where the ALJ finds in a single decision that the claimant was disabled for a closed period of time but has since medically improved") (emphasis in the original). The ALJ first applied the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for determining disability. See Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (describing five steps). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 22, 2012. At step two, the ALJ found that from April 22, 2012 through May 30, 2013, Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: pelvic fracture, tibial plateau fracture, left knee ligament tear and bunion. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs impairment or combination of impairments, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment.

         The ALJ assessed that from April 22, 2012 through May 30, 2013, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work but with the following limitations:

[Plaintiff] has to change positions at will. He can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, kneel, crouch or crawl. He can no more than occasionally climb ramps and stairs or stoop. He must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. He must be permitted to take three extra breaks per day for 15 minutes each.

Tr. at 28.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ determined that from April 22, 2012 through May 30, 2013, considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were no jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national ...


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