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Tapia v. Astrue

April 27, 2010

ROGER TAPIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ralph R. Beistline United States District Judge

ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION

I. INTRODUCTION

Tapia has filed a Motion for Award of Benefits at Docket 18, which the Government opposes at Docket 23. The Government further asks the Court to affirm the Commissioner's final decision that Tapia was not disabled. Tapia files his reply at Docket 26. For the reasons stated herein, the Court denies Tapia's motion and affirms the Commissioner's final decision.

II. BACKGROUND

This dispute arises from the Commissioner's denial of Tapia's application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Tapia protectively applied for DIB on October 14, 2005, and SSI on November 9, 2005, stating that he was disabled due to degenerative disc disease, bad knees, anxiety disorder, and shin splints when driving.*fn1

The administrative record is largely composed of Veteran's Administration ("VA") medical records. The VA evaluated Tapia at 40% service-related disability due to his back pain.*fn2 The records indicate prolonged periods of back and knee pain, which resulted in anxiety and pain disorders.*fn3 Social phobias are also indicated in the VA records.*fn4

Tapia's application was denied and an administrative law judge ("ALJ") heard his appeal on April 9, 2007.*fn5 On April 18, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying Tapia's claims, which became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied a request for review.*fn6 Tapia then brought suit in this Court, alleging that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because the ALJ improperly discounted Tapia's testimony from the hearing, the ALJ improperly considered the VA's 40% disability rating, and the ALJ improperly evaluated Tapia's mental impairments.*fn7

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Social Security Act provides for payment of disability insurance benefits to people who have contributed to the Social Security program and who suffer from a physical or mental disability.*fn8

"Where, as here, the Appeals Council denies a request for review of an ALJ's decision, the decision of the ALJ represents the final decision of the Commissioner."*fn9 After a final decision of the Commissioner, the claimant may seek judicial review by the district court.*fn10 On de novo review, the district court may enter, upon the pleadings and a transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the ALJ's decision.*fn11 The district court must uphold the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ has applied the correct legal standards.*fn12 When evidence supports either confirming or reversing the ALJ's decision, the reviewing court may not substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ.*fn13

IV. DISCUSSION

A. There Was No Reversible Error in Mental Impairment Findings

Tapia argues that the ALJ improperly found his depression, anxiety disorder, and chronic pain disorder "not severe" at Step 2 of the inquiry.*fn14 At Step 2, the SSA assesses whether the impairment is "severe": whether the impairment (or combination of impairments) significantly limits basic work activities.*fn15

If a claimant has no alleged impairments that are sufficiently severe so as to preclude work, the claimant is not disabled. Although the Commissioner acknowledges that the ALJ should have found Tapia's mental impairments severe, he argues, and the court agrees, that this error is not cause for a remand because ...


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