United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
JOHN E. McDERMOTT, Magistrate Judge.
On October 16, 2013, Lance Mitchell Druckerman ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability and Disability Insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on February 6, 2014. On July 3, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS"). The matter is now ready for decision.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before this Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed and this case dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiff is a 53-year-old male who applied for Social Security Disability and Disability Insurance benefits on March 30, 2009, alleging disability beginning September 5, 2008. (AR 114.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 5, 2008, the alleged onset date. (AR 116, 150.)
Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on July 21, 2009. (AR 114.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Sally C. Reason, on March 22, 2010, in West Los Angeles, California. (AR 114.) Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel. (AR 114.) Vocational expert ("VE") Gregory S. Jones also appeared and testified at the hearing. (AR 114.)
The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 21, 2010. (AR 114-134.) Plaintiff requested review of the decision with the Appeals Council. (AR 25-27.) The Appeals Council granted the request for review, found legal error in the ALJ's decision, and vacated and remanded for further administrative proceedings. (AR 141-143.)
On January 11, 2012, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before ALJ Sally C. Reason, in West Los Angeles, California. (AR 148.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (AR 148.) Medical expert ("ME") Glenn E. Griffin, Ph.D., and VE Lynne Tracy, also appeared and testified. (AR 148.) A supplemental hearing took place on March 22, 2012, also in West Los Angeles, California. (AR 148.) Plaintiff appeared and testified and was represented by counsel. (AR 148.) VE Gregory Jones also appeared and testified. (AR 148.)
The ALJ issued a second unfavorable decision on April 16, 2012. (AR 148-170.) Plaintiff again requested review of the decision with the Appeals Council. (AR 27.) The Appeals Council denied the request for review. (AR 6-12.)
As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, Plaintiff raises the following disputed issues as grounds for reversal and remand:
1. Whether the ALJ properly determined that Lance Druckerman could perform the past relevant work ("PRW").
2. Whether the ALJ properly considered the testimony of Lance Druckerman.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. Smolen v. Chater , 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan , 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper legal standards).
Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla, ' but less than a preponderance." Saelee v. Chater , 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson , 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin. , 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins , 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen , 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION
The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or... can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
The first step is to determine whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantial gainful activity. Parra v. Astrue , 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity, disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. Parra , 481 F.3d at 746. An impairment is not severe if it does not significantly limit the claimant's ability to work. Smolen , 80 F.3d at 1290. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed, in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix I of the regulations. Parra , 481 F.3d at 746. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is presumptively disabled. Bowen , 482 U.S. at 141. Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing PRW. Pinto v. Massanari , 249 F.3d 840, 844-45 (9th Cir. 2001). Before making the step four determination, the ALJ first must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The RFC is "the most [one] can still do ...