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Peters v. Colvin

United States District Court, Central District of California

January 23, 2015

SHONITA PETERS, [1]Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER

JEAN ROSENBLUTH, U.K. Magistrate Judge

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner’s final decision denying her 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 August 7, 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 February 2, 1972. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 32, 107.) She completed 11th grade. (AR 32, 124.) She had no past relevant work. (See AR 34-36, 242.).

On June 30, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI. (AR 107-10; see AR 113.) She alleged that she had been unable to work since October 5, 2005, because of seizures. (AR 107, 124.) After Plaintiff’s application was denied initially and on reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. (AR 74-76.)

A hearing was held on May 22, 2012, at which Plaintiff appeared and was represented by counsel. (See AR 27.) Plaintiff testified, as did a vocational expert. (See AR 27-59.) In a written decision issued July 27, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 11-17.) On October 16, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s 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. 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 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 her 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”)[2] to perform her 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 she 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 that the claimant is not disabled because she can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. ยง 416.920(a)(4)(v). That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the ...


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