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Schrock v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

September 23, 2014

ARTHUR HENRY SCHROCK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL L. ABRAMS, Magistrate Judge.

I.

PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed this action on December 23, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on January 8, 2014, and January 15, 2014. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on August 20, 2014, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

II.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on March 8, 1974. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 192.] He has a twelfth grade education and past relevant work experience as a veterinary technician, cashier, and fast food cashier/cook. [AR at 20, 43, 277.]

On March 7, 2011, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), and on March 18, 2011, he filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments. [AR at 190-98, 199-204.] In both applications, plaintiff alleged disability beginning on May 16, 2010. [AR at 192, 199.] After the applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 126-31, 132-134, 137-43.] A hearing was held on June 13, 2012, at which time plaintiff appeared represented by an attorney, and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 35-63.] A vocational expert ("VE") also testified. [AR at 59-62.] On July 16, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a disability from May 16, 2010, through the date of the decision. [AR at 10-23.] Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which was denied on October 24, 2013. [AR at 1-4, 5.] This action followed.

III.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue , 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010).

"Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin. , 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998) (same). When determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Mayes v. Massanari , 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001); see Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) ("[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision should be upheld." Ryan , 528 F.3d at 1198 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) ("If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, [the reviewing court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.").

IV.

THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

Persons are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v. Sullivan , 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester v. Chater , 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995), as amended April 9, 1996. In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id . If the claimant is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting his ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and the claim is denied. Id . If the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing") set forth at 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id . If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient "residual functional capacity" to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id . The claimant has the burden of proving that he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin , 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of disability is established. The Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not disabled, because he can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. The determination of this issue comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester , 81 F.3d at 828 n.5; Drouin , 966 F.2d at 1257.

B. THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS

In this case, at step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date, May 16, 2010.[1] [AR at 12.] At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has the following severe impairments:

[B]ack pain; chest pain; coronary artery disease; unstable angina; coronary atherosclerosis, status post quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery; status post stent of the Left subclavian artery; cerebrovascular disease with intracranial stenosis; insulin dependent diabetes mellitus; hyperlipidemia; hypokalemia; sternotomy; hypertension; attention deficit ...

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