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Sanchez v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 19, 2014

DANNIE SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER

KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act").[1] In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from July 5, 2010, plaintiff's amended alleged disability onset date, [2] through the date of the final administrative decision. (ECF No. 16.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 19.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed a reply brief. (ECF No. 20.)

For the reasons that follow, the court grants plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in part, denies the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and remands the case for further proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on April 26, 1958, attended high school through the tenth grade, does not have a GED, and previously worked as a telephone line splicer technician and as a casino surveillance monitor.[3] (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 40-41, 81.) On July 11, 2010, plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that he was unable to work as of August 31, 2008. (AT 22, 175-83.) Plaintiff later amended his alleged onset date to July 5, 2010. (AT 22.) On November 21, 2010, the Commissioner determined that plaintiff was not disabled. (AT 91-95.) Upon plaintiff's request for reconsideration, the determination was affirmed on March 11, 2011. (AT 96-103.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which took place on February 24, 2012, and at which plaintiff (represented by counsel) and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. (AT 37-87.)

In a decision dated March 14, 2012, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from July 5, 2010, plaintiff's amended alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AT 22-31.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on March 1, 2013. (AT 1-6.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed this action in federal district court on April 22, 2013, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 1.)

II. ISSUES PRESENTED

Plaintiff raises the issues of (1) whether the ALJ erred in according "little weight" to the opinion of Dr. J. Rod McGinnis, an examining chiropractor, on the sole basis that Dr. McGinnis was not an acceptable medical source under the regulations; (2) whether the ALJ erred in finding that plaintiff had no severe mental impairment at Step Two; (3) whether the ALJ failed to give legally sufficient reasons for rejecting the medical opinion of plaintiff's treating physician Dr. Natalya Shutman; and (4) whether the ALJ erred by failing to state how he weighed the opinion of Dr. Troy Ewing, an examining psychologist, when assessing plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC").

III. LEGAL STANDARD

The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart , 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari , 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue , 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework.[4] At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 5, 2010, plaintiff's alleged onset date. (AT 24.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairment: "musculoskeletal limitations secondary to low back pain." (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 25.)

Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") for the ...


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