United States District Court, S.D. California
ORDER: (1) DENYING
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; & [DOC. NO. 9] (2) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DOC. NO. 10]
MARILYN L. HUFF, District Judge.
On May 22, 2013, Marie Perez ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) requesting judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's ("Defendant") final decision. (Doc. No. 1.) On October 5, 2013, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting that the Court reverse the Commissioner's final decision, or alternatively, remand the case for more complete findings. (Doc. No. 9 at 13.) On November 4, 2013, the Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and a response in opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. Nos. 10 & 11.) On November 18, 2013, Plaintiff filed an opposition. (Doc. No. 12.) The Court denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, grants Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment, and affirms the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").
On March 24, 2010, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, claiming a May 12, 2009 onset date. (Administrative Record ("AR") 122-130, 172.) The Commissioner denied the application for benefits initially on July 27, 2010, and again upon reconsideration on November 5, 2010. (AR 57-62, 64-70.) On November 11, 2010, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. (AR at 71.)
On November 15, 2011, Plaintiff, testified before an ALJ. (AR 27-52.) The ALJ also heard testimony from a vocational expert. (Id.) In a decision dated November 28, 2011, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: neck and low back pain, headaches, left side decreased sensation, left ear hearing loss, and obesity. (AR 13.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity to perform work involving light exertion on a full-time basis, and was therefore able to return to past relevant work as a medical assistant. (AR 20.) Further, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs that existed in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed. (AR 20.) Based on his findings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled from May 12, 2009, the alleged onset date, through November 28, 2011, the date of the ALJ's decision. (AR 21.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when, on March 29, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review. (AR 1-3.)
I. The Legal Standard for Determining Disability
To qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, an applicant must show that: (1) he suffers from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months; and (2) the impairment renders the applicant incapable of performing the work that he previously performed or any other substantially gainful employment that exists in the national economy. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). An applicant must meet both requirements to be disabled. Id . The Social Security Regulations set forth a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The Ninth Circuit summarized this process as follows:
The burden of proof is on the claimant as to steps one to four. As to step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. If a claimant is found to be "disabled" or "not disabled" at any step in the sequence, there is no need to consider subsequent steps. The five steps are:
Step 1. Is the claimant presently working in a substantially gainful activity? If so, then the claimant is "not disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act and is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the claimant is not working in a substantially gainful activity, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step one and the evaluation proceeds to step two.
Step 2. Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, then the claimant is "not disabled" and is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the claimant's impairment is severe, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step two and the evaluation proceeds to step three.
Step 3. Does the impairment "meet or equal" one of a list of specific impairments described in the regulations? If so, the claimant is "disabled" and therefore entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step three and the evaluation proceeds to step four.
Step 4. Is the claimant able to do any work that he or she has done in the past? If so, then the claimant is "not disabled" and is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the claimant cannot do any work he or she did in the past, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step four and the evaluation proceeds to the fifth and final step.
Step 5. Is the claimant able to do any other work? If not, then the claimant is "disabled" and therefore entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the claimant is able to do other work, then the Commissioner must establish that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that claimant can do. There are two ways for the Commissioner to meet the burden of showing that there is other work in "significant numbers" in the national economy that claimant can do: (1) by the testimony of a vocational expert, or (2) by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines. If the Commissioner meets this burden, the claimant is "not disabled" and therefore ...