United States District Court, N.D. California
L. JULIET W. THOMASON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS, District Judge.
On April 2, 2013, Plaintiff L. Juliet W. Thomason filed this action seeking judicial review of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Timothy C. Terrill's decision that she is not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act. Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 17, 21, 23.) Thomason argues that the ALJ erred by finding certain of her impairments non-severe, and by failing to articulate legally sufficient reasons for discrediting her testimony. Defendant Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin counters that the ALJ committed no reversible error.
Having carefully considered the papers submitted and the pleadings in this action, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTS Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Thomason filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2002. (Record at 15.) Her claim was denied on June 9, 2010, and upon reconsideration on October 4, 2010. ( Id. ) Thomason subsequently requested a hearing before an ALJ. ( Id. )
The ALJ held a hearing on June 9, 2011, at which Thomason appeared and testified. ( Id. ) Michael L. Stinson, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. ( Id. ) In a decision dated June 24, 2011, the ALJ found that Thomason was not disabled, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 1, 2002 through June 30, 2008. ( Id. at 15, 26) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, thus rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. ( Id. at 5.) It is from that decision that Thomason now appeals. (Dkt. No. 1.)
II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS AND FRAMEWORK
This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. section 405(g). The Court may reverse the ALJ's decision only if it "contains legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). It is "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational conclusion, the Court must uphold the ALJ. Burch, 400 F.3d at 679.
The SSA uses a five-step sequential framework to determine whether a claimant is disabled. At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). A person is involved in substantial work activity if she engages in work that involves significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). Gainful work activity is defined as "work usually done for pay or profit, " regardless of whether the claimant receives a profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled. If the claimant does not engage in substantial gainful activity, then the ALJ proceeds to Step Two of the evaluation.
At Step Two, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). A "severe" impairment is defined in the regulations as one that significantly limits an individual's ability to perform basic work activities. If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, she is not disabled. If the claimant does have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, then the ALJ proceeds to Step Three.
At Step Three of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ must determine whether a claimant's impairment or combination of impairments "meets or equals" the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets the criteria of a listing and the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. If the impairment or combination of impairments does not meet the criteria of a listing or does not meet the duration requirement, the ALJ proceeds to the next step.
Before reaching Step Four in the sequential evaluation, the ALJ must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RF Capacity"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e)). A claimant's RF Capacity consists of his ability to engage in physical and mental work activity on an ongoing basis, in spite of any limitations from impairments. The ALJ considers both severe and non-severe impairments in determining the claimant's RF Capacity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545.
At Step Four, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has the RF Capacity to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant has the RF Capacity to perform past relevant work, she is not disabled. If the claimant is unable to do past relevant work or has no past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to the final step in the sequential evaluation.
At Step Five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RF Capacity, age, education, and work experience in determining whether the claimant can perform any other work besides past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the claimant can perform other work, she is not disabled. If the claimant cannot perform other work and fulfills the duration requirement, she is disabled.
A. The ALJ's ...