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Felton v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

January 21, 2015

LIAM FELTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER

JEAN ROSENBLUTH, Magistrate Judge.

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Social Security disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). This matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation, filed August 6, 2014, which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on October 11, 1959. (Administrative Record ("AR") 147.) He completed 11th grade (AR 46), and he worked as a home attendant caring for a paralyzed man and as a janitor at an office (AR 59-61).

On February 28, 2011, Plaintiff submitted an application for DIB, alleging that he had been unable to work since March 31, 2008, because of glaucoma and asthma. (AR 68, 147-48, 168.) After his application was denied, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. (AR 82.) A hearing was held on May 23, 2012, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). (AR 42-66.) In a written decision issued June 25, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 31-38.) On September 19, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-5.) This action followed.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. See id.; Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court "must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, " the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Id. at 720-21.

IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

People 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 12 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

An ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether someone is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended Apr. 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 must be denied. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not 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 not disabled is made and the claim must be denied. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). 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., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal one in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity ("RFC")[1] to perform his past work; if so, he is not disabled and the claim must be denied. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets that burden, a prima facie case of disability is established. Id . If that happens or if the claimant has no past relevant work, the Commissioner bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not disabled because he can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. § 404.1520; Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.

B. The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Process

At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 31, 2008, the alleged onset date. (AR 33.) At step two, he concluded that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of "left eye blindness secondary to glaucoma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma/emphysema." (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments in the Listing. (AR 34.) At step four, he found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work except that he "must avoid exposure to dust, gases, fumes and other respiratory irritants, work that involves frequent depth perception and peripheral vision, and work with small objects." (Id.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not perform any of his past relevant work. (AR 36.) Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform the job of advertising-material distributor, which existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 37-38.) Accordingly, he found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 38.)

V. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in (1) assessing his credibility, (2) formulating his RFC, and (3) determining that he could "sustain work activity and perform a significant number of jobs." (J. Stip. at 6.) For the reasons discussed below, remand is not warranted.

A. The ALJ Properly Assessed Plaintiff's Credibility

Plaintiff claims that the ALJ "provide[d] no specific and legitimate reasons to discredit [his] testimony as required by the case law" and "improperly decided [his] RFC before ...


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