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MacRery v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

January 14, 2015

JOHN MACRERY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARGARET A. NAGLE, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on September 4, 2013, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). On September 27, 2013, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (ECF Nos. 9, 10.) On May 5, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") in which plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and either remanding for further proceedings or awarding benefits to plaintiff. (Joint Stip. at 21.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or, in the alternative, remanded for further proceedings. (Id. ) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On January 27, 2012, [1] plaintiff, then 56 years old, [2] applied for a period of disability and DIB. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 141, 163.) Plaintiff alleged disability commencing June 1, 2009, due to depression, cancer, and back pain. (Id. 140, 144.) Plaintiff had previously worked as a sales manager, contract consultant, and a telemarketer. (Id. 16.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially (A.R. 69-73) and on reconsideration (A.R. 82-86). Plaintiff requested an expedited hearing based on financial hardship. (A.R. 88; see also id 9.) On May 2, 2013, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared at a hearing and testified before Administrative Law Judge Keith Dietterle ("ALJ"). (A.R. 23-43.) Kelly Winn-Boaitey, a vocational expert ("VE"), and Dr. Joseph Malancharuvil, a board certified clinical psychologist, also testified. (Id. 23-46.) On May 23, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Id. 9-18.) On June 25, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Id. 1-4.)

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date of June 1, 2009, through his date last insured of December 31, 2012. (A.R. 11.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the severe medically determinable impairments of major depression and anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified. (Id. ) The ALJ also concluded that these impairments did not satisfy the requirements of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526). (Id. 25-26.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: simple routine tasks with no public contact." (A.R. 14.) The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work because he was limited to simple routine tasks. (Id. 16.) However, the ALJ found that, because plaintiff's limitations "had little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled work at all exertional levels, " there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. (Id. 17 (citing SSR 82-41 and section 204.11 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines).) Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. 17.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). "Substantial evidence is 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.'" Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). "Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record." Molina v. Astrue , 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Lingenfelter v. Astrue , 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs. , 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn , 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart , 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, ...


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