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Honaker v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

January 21, 2015

DAMON HONAKER, 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 Income benefits ("SSI"). 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 July 29, 2014, which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and judgment is entered in her favor.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on December 15, 1964. (AR 111.) He attended the police academy and completed an associate's degree. (AR 34-35.) He worked as an order clerk and garage-door hanger. (AR 41.) Plaintiff left work to care for his father until his death, in 2002 or 2003. (AR 26-27.) Plaintiff last worked full time in 2000. (AR 26; but see AR 37-38, 124 (last worked in Dec. 1998).)

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on May 18, 2010. (AR 11, 111-17.) He alleged that he had been unable to work since July 21, 2007, because of "shoulder & joint dislocation, " "severe nerve damage in right shoulder, " "severe sternum pain, " "broken clavicle, " "torn tendon and ligaments in right shoulder, " "bruised lung, " "migraine headaches, " "panic attacks, " "memory loss, " and "loss of strength and mobility of right arm." (AR 111, 124.) After his application was denied, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. (AR 67-69.)

A hearing was held on April 4, 2012. (AR 22-46.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert. (Id.) In a written decision issued July 13, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 9-21.) On September 23, 2013, the Appeals Council denied his request for review. (AR 1-3.) 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

The ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment 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, the claimant is not disabled and the claim must be denied. § 416.920(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 then bears the burden of establishing the claimant is not disabled because he can perform other substantial gainful work ...


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