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Garcia v. Colvin

United States District Court, Central District of California

January 16, 2015

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




Plaintiff filed a Complaint on June 14, 2013, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). On July 23, 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 March 11, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") in which plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding full benefits to plaintiff or, in the alternative, remanding the matter for further consideration and the completion of the sequential evaluation process. (Joint Stip. at 16.) The Commissioner requests that her decision be affirmed or, alternatively, if the Court finds that the ALJ erred, that the case be remanded for further consideration. (Id. at 17.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.


Plaintiff, who was born on March 6, 1981, began receiving DIB in November 1994, when he was 13 years old. (See Administrative Record ("A.R.") 12, 168-69.) His benefits were continued after an age 18 redetermination but were terminated in November 2009, when plaintiff, who was then 28 years old, was incarcerated after a conviction for strong armed robbery. (See id. 12, 16, 169.) Plaintiff was released from state prison on June 27, 2010 following the completion of his two year sentence. (Id. 16.)

Plaintiff filed the instant application for a period of disability and DIB on April 21, 2010, two few months before his release from prison. (A.R. 12, 168, 171.) Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since November 1, 1994, the date his last application for DIB was granted, due to a learning disability, "adjustment disorder with features of depression and anxiety, " and "mental issues, depression, and anxiety" (Id. 172). Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as an elementary school janitor (DOT 387.682-018), usher (DOT 344.677-014), and security guard (DOT 372.667-034). (Id. 72, 174.) He failed to hold any of his prior jobs for more than four months. (See id. 174.) At the time of his application, he was working as an in-home care attendant for his mother (DOT 354.377-014). (Id. 53, 72.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's 2010 application, plaintiff requested a hearing. (A.R. 91.) On October 24, 2011, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Alexander Weir III. (Id. 49.) Vocational expert Sandra Trost ("VE") also testified. (Id. 45-57) On December 16, 2011, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim. (Id. 12-20.) Plaintiff submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Id. 1-4.)


In his December 16, 2011 decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 21, 2010, the date he protectively filed for benefits. (A.R. 15.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the medically determinable impairments of "obesity, mental depression, and a learning disorder" but found that none of those impairments, either independently or in combination, constituted a severe impairment under step two of the sequential analysis. (Id. 15-20.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. 20.)


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, 885 (9th Cir. ...

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