United States District Court, C.D. California
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Young Chul Cho, Lawrence D. Rohlfing Law Offices, Santa Fe Springs, CA, for Plaintiff.
Carolyn Chen, Social Security Administration, San Francisco, CA, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Los Angeles, CA, for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
JEAN ROSENBLUTH, United States Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Social Security Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). This matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation, filed October 15, 2012, which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this action is dismissed.
Plaintiff was born on April 30, 1967. (Administrative Record (" AR" ) 80.) She has a seventh-grade education and is able to communicate in English. (AR 90, 97.) Plaintiff has not worked since 1991, although she earned a small amount of income in 1993. (AR 85, 91.) On June 29, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 1998. (AR 80.) The application was denied on September 27, 2007. (AR 36-38.) Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration, which was denied on September 9, 2008. (AR 41-45.)
After Plaintiff's application was denied, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ). (AR 48.) An initial hearing was held on May 6, 2010, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified on her own behalf. (AR 479-508.) In a written decision issued on June 7, 2010, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 22-33.) Plaintiff then requested review of the ALJ's decision, and on October 29, 2010, the Appeals Council reversed and remanded the matter for further proceedings. (AR 65-67.) On June 7, 2011, another hearing was held, at which Plaintiff again testified on her own behalf. (AR 455-78.) On June 17, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision again determining that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 12-21.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (AR 11.) On December 2, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 5-7.) This action followed.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's
decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir.2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir.2007). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir.2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court " must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir.1998). " If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court " may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Id. at 720-21.
IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
People are " disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir.1992).
A. The Five-Step Evaluation Process
The ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n. 5 (9th Cir.1995) (as amended Apr. 9, 1996). In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim must be denied. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a " severe" impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting his ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of not disabled is made and the claim must be denied. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has a " severe" impairment or combination of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments (" Listing" ) set forth at 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity (" RFC" )  to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim must be denied. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving that he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets that burden, a prima facie case of
disability is established. Id. If that happens or if the claimant has no past relevant work, the Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not disabled because he can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. § 416.920; Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n. 5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
B. The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Process
At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since June 29, 2007, the date of her SSI application. (AR 17.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of " obesity, degenerative disc disease of the neck and back, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, status post left carpal tunnel surgical release, history of left knee arthroscopy, diabetes, and asthma." ( Id. ) He also found that Plaintiff's " medically determinable mental impairment of depression does not cause more than minimal limitation in the claimant's ability to perform basic mental work activities and is therefore non-severe." ( Id. ) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did ...