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Lockwood v. Commissioner Social Security Administration

August 16, 2010

CLABURN M. LOCKWOOD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Garr M. King, Senior District Judge, Presiding, D.C. No. 3:07-cv-01838-KI.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bea, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Argued and Submitted May 3, 2010 -- Portland, Oregon

Before: Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Carlos T. Bea, and Sandra S. Ikuta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

The issue in this case is whether an administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred when she failed to explain in her written decision why she treated a social security disability benefits claimant as being a person closely approaching advanced age instead of treating the claimant as being a person of advanced age. We hold the ALJ did not err because she was required by regulation only to consider whether to use the older age category. The ALJ satisfied this requirement.

Social security regulations divide claimants into three age categories: younger persons (those persons under age 50), persons closely approaching advanced age (those persons age 50-54), and persons of advanced age (those persons age 55 or older). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(c)-(e). Where a claimant is within a few days or a few months of reaching an older age category (a "borderline situation"), an ALJ has discretion, but is not required, to use the older age category. Id. § 404.1563(b).

Here, Claburn Lockwood ("Lockwood") was one month and three days from turning 55 years old (and, thus, from becoming a person of advanced age) when the ALJ denied Lockwood's claim for social security disability benefits. The ALJ treated Lockwood as being a person closely approaching advanced age-instead of using the older age category-and concluded that Lockwood was not disabled. The ALJ did not explain in her decision why she did not treat Lockwood as being a person of advanced age. The district court affirmed the ALJ's decision.

Lockwood contends, and the Commissioner of Social Security does not dispute, that the ALJ would have been required to conclude that Lockwood was disabled if the ALJ had treated Lockwood as being a person of advanced age.

Thus, Lockwood contends the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to explain in her decision why she used Lock-wood's chronological age-54 years old.

Although an ALJ is required by regulation to consider whether to use an older age category in a borderline situation, there is no requirement that the ALJ explain in her written decision why she did not use an older age category. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(b). On the facts of this case, the ALJ did not err when she did not address in her written decision the fact that Lockwood was just over one month from being a person of advanced age. Therefore, we affirm.*fn1

I. Background

In 2003, Lockwood applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Act. After Lock-wood's applications were denied, she requested a hearing before the ALJ. The ALJ held two hearings: one on June 2, 2005, at which Lockwood appeared ...


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