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Taylor v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 24, 2014

ALTHEIA TAYLOR, 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 May 31, 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 June 15, 2012, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. On March 7, 2013, a settlement conference was held before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, but no settlement was reached. On June 27, 2013, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation 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 a period of disability and DIB on February 19, 2009, and she filed an application for SSI on January 29, 2010. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 13.) Plaintiff, who was born on January 23, 1963 (A.R. 18), claims to have been disabled since May 3, 2008, due to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (A.R. 81, 90). Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a parking lot attendant, sales clerk, hotel customer service clerk, and cashier checker. (A.R. 18.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon consideration, plaintiff requested a hearing. (A.R. 13.) On September 17, 2010, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Michael D. Radensky (the "ALJ"). ( Id. ) Vocational expert David A. Rinehart also testified. ( Id. ) On October 29, 2010, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 13-20), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). That decision is now at issue in this action.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

In his October 29, 2010 decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2012, and plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 3, 2008, the alleged onset date of her disability. (A.R. 15.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairments of mood disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder. ( Id. ) The ALJ concluded, however, that plaintiff "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR [§§] 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926)." ( Id. )

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: simple repetitive work and limited public interaction." (A.R. 16.) In making this finding, the ALJ considered: the subjective symptom testimony of plaintiff, which the ALJ found was not entirely credible; the medical opinions and evidence of record.; and the unfavorable May 2, 2008 decision on plaintiff's prior application for DIB and SSI. (A.R. 16-18.) With respect to the medical opinions of record, the ALJ gave little weight to the opinion of plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Imelda Alfonso, M.D., because the evidence of record did not support her opinions, and she failed to mention plaintiff's noncompliance with her medication treatment. (A.R. 18.) Instead, the ALJ agreed with, and gave "great weight" to, the opinion of the State agency medical consultant that "the evidence of record does not provide a basis for deviating from the May 2, 2008 decision that [plaintiff] is not disabled." (A.R. 18.) The ALJ noted that, in accordance with Chavez v. Bowen , 844 F.2d 691 (9th Cir. 1988), the prior, unfavorable decision "gives rise to a presumption that the claimant continues to be not disabled after the period adjudicated, and that this presumption of continuing nondisability applies when adjudicating a subsequent disability claim with an unadjudicated period arising under the same title of the Act as the prior claim." (A.R. 17.) The ALJ further noted that a claimant must show "changed circumstances" to rebut the presumption. ( Id. ) After detailing the May 2, 2008 decision, and the evidence of record, the ALJ found that plaintiff "ha[d] not met her burden of proving changed circumstances indicating greater disability." (A.R. 18.)

Based on plaintiff's age, education, [2] work experience, and RFC, as well as the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined that, although plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, there were other jobs that plaintiff could perform in the national economy, including those of hand packager, floor waxer, and laundry worker. (A.R. 19.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff "has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 3, 2008, through [October 29, 2010, ] the date of []his decision." (A.R. 20.)

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.'" ...


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