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Rakowski v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 30, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


GARY S. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Sherri A. Rakowski ("Plaintiff"), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income payments under Title II of the Social Security Act. The matter is pending before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.[1]


On January 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability beginning February 25, 2009.[2] AR 134-135. The application was denied on February 1, 2010, and upon reconsideration on February 9, 2011. AR 67-70, 66. Subsequently, on December 5, 2011, Administrative Law Judge, Judson Scott ("ALJ"), conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's claim. AR 31-60. Plaintiff appeared with a representative and testified at the hearing. AR 31-60. The ALJ also considered the testimony of three other individuals: John Morse, M.D., an impartial medical expert; Dr. Shakil Mohammed, M.D., an independent psychiatric medical expert; and Kenneth Ferra, a vocational expert. AR 31-60.

In a decision dated December 23, 2011, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 10-29. On September 20, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-7. Plaintiff then commenced this action. (Doc. 1).


To achieve uniformity in the decision-making process, the Commissioner has established a sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)-(f). Specifically, the ALJ is required to determine: (1) whether a claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged disability; (2) whether the claimant had medically-determinable "severe" impairments; (3) whether these impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 CFR § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) whether the claimant retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform his past relevant work;[3] and (5) whether the claimant had the ability to perform other jobs existing in significant numbers at the regional and national level. 20 CFR § 404.1520(a)-(f).

Using the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not meet the disability standard. AR 23-24. More particularly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. AR 15. Further, the ALJ identified multilevel degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, bilateral foot neuropathic neuropathy, moderate depressive disorder, and pain disorder secondary to general medical condition as severe impairments. AR 15. Nonetheless, the ALJ determined that the severity of Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or exceed any of the listing impairments. AR 16-17.

Based on a review of the entire record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work with modifications. More specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could sit, stand, and walk for six out of eight hours, with the usual breaks and the use of her back brace if desired; frequently perform postural abilities, except no climbing of ropes, ladders or scaffolds; no work at unprotected heights or around hazardous moving machinery; perform simple repetitive one to three step tasks; have frequent interaction with co-workers, supervisors and the public; and have a low stress occupation. AR 17. After noting that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a teacher's aide, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform other work that existed in significant numbers in the local and national economies. AR 23. Therefore, he concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 23-24. In making this determination, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and functionally limiting effects of her pain and found Plaintiff's statements were not credible. AR 17-18. Plaintiff now challenges the ALJ's credibility findings.


Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is supported by substantial evidence and (2) it applies the correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). "Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). It is "relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Id.


I. The ALJ Properly Assessed Plaintiff's Credibility.

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not articulate clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's pain and limitation testimony. Doc. 22 at 7:2-8. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's reliance on objective medical evidence in conjunction with Plaintiff's treatment choices were insufficient reasons to find her not credible. Doc. 22 at 8:6-9:5. Defendant argues that the ALJ's analysis is supported by substantial evidence. ...

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