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Acosta-Espinosa v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

November 27, 2017

ISAAC ACOSTA-ESPINOSA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING CASE FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Isaac Acosta-Espinosa seeks review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. The parties agree this matter must be remanded but disagree as to the scope of the remand. Mr. Acosta-Espinoza contends the ALJ erred in: (1) failing to consider degenerative disc disease of the cervical and thoracic spine and degenerative joint disease of the hips at step two; (2) failing to consider whether he met Listing 1.04 at step three; (3) evaluating the medical opinions of Huong Lakin, D.O. and Nancy Armstrong, ARNP; (4) failing to include visual limitations in the residual functional capacity (RFC); and (5) evaluating his own symptom testimony. Dkt. 17 at 1. Mr. Acosta-Espinoza also notes that his subsequent application for benefits was granted during the pendency of the instant appeal with a disability onset date of the day following the ALJ's decision denying benefits in the instant case. Dkt. 17-1. He contends that, given the ALJ's finding of disability on the subsequent application, “there is no serious doubt that [he] is disabled” and the only question is as to the onset date of his disability. Dkt. 17 at 2, 18. He argues that the evidence the ALJ allegedly erred in considering should be credited as true and the matter should be remanded for an award of benefits. Dkt. 17 at 18. Alternatively, he requests that the case be remanded for further administrative proceedings.

         The Commissioner, in response, concedes the ALJ erred at step three in failing to consider whether Mr. Acosta-Espinoza met Listing 1.04 at step three and moves to remand the case for further administrative proceedings. Dkt. 20 at 2. The Commissioner further contends that the subsequent ALJ decision granting benefits should also be considered on remand to determine whether the instant decision denying benefits and the subsequent decision awarding benefits can be reconciled. Id. The Commissioner disputes all of Mr. Acosta-Espinoza's other assignments of error. Id. at 4-18. As discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for further administrative proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         BACKGROUND

         On May 7, 2013, Mr. Acosta-Espinoza applied for benefits, alleging disability as of September 21, 2011. Tr. 12. Mr. Acosta-Espinoza's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Tr. 12, 134-73. The ALJ conducted a hearing on March 5, 2015, as well as a supplemental hearing on August 7, 2015, at which time Mr. Acosta-Espinoza moved to amend his alleged disability onset date to October 7, 2013.[2] Tr. 30-131. On December 28, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Mr. Acosta-Espinoza not disabled. Tr. 12-23. Both parties acknowledge that subsequent to that decision, and while the instant appeal was pending, Mr. Acosta-Espinoza filed a new claim for benefits and was found disabled with an onset date of December 29, 2015. Dkts. 17, 17-1, 20.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Utilizing the five-step disability evaluation process, [3] the ALJ found:

Step one: Mr. Acosta-Espinoza has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of September 21, 2011.
Step two: Mr. Acosta-Espinoza has the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, acromioclavicular joint arthritis of the left shoulder, traction detachment of the right retina, status post-surgery, bilateral vitreous hemorrhages of the eyes, and proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
Step three: These impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of a listed impairment.[4]
Residual Functional Capacity: Mr. Acosta-Espinoza can perform light work subject to the following additional limitations: he can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; he can occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and he should have no greater than frequent exposure to vibrations and to hazards as defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).
Step four: As Mr. Acosta-Espinoza can perform past relevant work he is not disabled.
Step five: In the alternative, as there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Acosta-Espinoza can perform, he is not disabled.

         Tr. 12-23. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Acosta-Espinoza's request for review making the ALJ's decision the ...


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