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Rodriguez v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 24, 2014

MANUEL SALAZAR RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARGARET A. NAGLE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on August 4, 2012, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI"). On August 30, 2012, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on May 23, 2013, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; and the Commissioner requests that her decision be affirmed or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on November 2, 2007, and an application for a period of disability and DIB on November 21, 2007. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 12.) Plaintiff, who was born on February 7, 1988 (A.R. 21), [2] claims to have been disabled since November 1, 2007, due to a psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, a personality disorder not otherwise specified, a history of marijuana use, and osteochondroma (A.R. 14). Plaintiff has no past relevant work experience. (A.R. 15.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing. (A.R. 12.) On April 22, 2010, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge David M. Ganly (the "ALJ"). ( Id. ) This initial hearing was continued to permit plaintiff to obtain outstanding treatment records. (A.R. 12.) On July 30, 2010, plaintiff, who again was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a second administrative hearing. ( Id. ) Vocational expert Troy Scott and medical expert Joseph Malancharuvil also testified. ( Id. ) On August 13, 2010, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 12-22), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 5-7). That decision is now at issue in this action.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

In his August 13, 2010 decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2006, and plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2007, the alleged onset date of his disability. (A.R. 14.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairments of psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, personality disorder not otherwise specified, and a history of marijuana use four years ago, but he does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926).[3] (A.R. 14-15.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "a significant range of medium work" as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) with the following limitations: "[plaintiff] can lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently"; "[plaintiff] can stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour workday... [and] can sit intermittently during the remaining time in the workday"; "[plaintiff] can perform simple repetitive tasks with 4-step instruction[s]"; "[plaintiff] can perform object oriented work"; [plaintiff] can have no intense interaction with supervisors and only minimal interaction with the general public"; and "[plaintiff] cannot be responsible for the safety of others and cannot perform positions of hyper[]vigilance." (A.R. 15-16.) Based upon the ALJ's RFC assessment for plaintiff and after having considered plaintiff's age, education, [4] work experience, and the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [plaintiff] can perform, " including the jobs of industrial cleaner, hand packager, machine feeder, and bench assembler. (A.R. 21-22.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 1, 2007, the alleged onset date, through August 13, 2010, the date of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 22.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart , 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). "While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those reasonably drawn from the record' will suffice." Widmark v. Barnhart , 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs. , 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler , 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn , 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett , 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Stout v. Comm'r , 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Burch , 400 F.3d at 679.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff claims that the ALL failed to consider properly: (1) the opinion of treating physician, Dr. Peterson, that plaintiff would be unable to complete a 40 hour work week; and (2) the opinion of treating physician, Yoon H. Kim, M.D., that plaintiff has a sleep disturbance, confusion, and paranoid thoughts and is unable to work or perform activities of daily living. (Joint Stip. at 3.) In rejecting these opinions, ...


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