United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER
JEAN ROSENBLUTH, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Social Security disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental 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 22, 2014, which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and judgment is entered in her favor.
Plaintiff was born on October 27, 1965. (Administrative Record ("AR") 219, 223.) He completed sixth grade, spoke limited English, and worked as a plaster laborer, roofer, and dishwasher in a restaurant. (AR 44, 54-55, 247, 259-62.)
On September 29, 2011, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging that he had been unable to work since September 26, 2009. (AR 113-14, 219-32.) In a disability report, he alleged that he was unable to work because of "[b]roken arm, disc, neck, hip, rib problem." (AR 247.) After Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. (AR 133-34.)
A hearing was held on May 24, 2013. (AR 39-59.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert. (Id.) In a written decision issued June 7, 2013, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 25-34.) On July 23, 2013, Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review. (AR 15.) On September 4, 2013, the council denied the request. (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. 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 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") to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim must be denied. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 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 that the claimant is not disabled because he can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; 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 any substantial gainful activity since September 26, 2009, his alleged onset date. (AR 27.) At step two, he found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of hepatitis C, degenerative disc disease of the neck, left-shoulder impairment, and left-wrist impairment. (Id.) At step three, he determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments in the Listing. (AR 27-28.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work with limitations to "occasional postural activities, no overhead work with non-dominant left upper extremity, occasional fine/gross manipulation with left upper extremity and no unprotected heights or dangerous machinery." (AR 28.) Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work but could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 32-34.) Accordingly, he found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 34.)
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in (1) formulating his RFC and (2) assessing his ...