United States District Court, E.D. California
JOSHUA M. MOTE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act ("Act"). In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from October 31, 2008, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (ECF No. 17.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 20.) No optional reply brief was filed.
For the reasons discussed below, the court DENIES plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and enters judgment for the Commissioner.
Plaintiff was born on September 13, 1981, completed 2 years of college education, is able to communicate in English, and previously worked as a construction laborer, mason's helper, kitchen supervisor, pizza delivery driver, and custodial maintenance worker. (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 31, 85-86, 90-91, 206, 208, 212.) On February 27, 2009, and May 19, 2009, at the age of 27, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, respectively, alleging that his disability began on October 31, 2008, and that he was disabled primarily due to posttraumatic stress disorder and degenerative disc disease. (AT 20, 31, 85-86, 90-91, 184, 188, 207.) On September 29, 2009, the Commissioner determined that plaintiff was not disabled. (AT 20, 92-99.) Upon plaintiff's request for reconsideration, that determination was affirmed on April 12, 2010. (AT 20, 106-11.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which took place on January 27, 2011, and July 29, 2011, and at which plaintiff, represented by a non-attorney representative, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. (AT 20, 38-74, 75-84.)
In a decision dated August 25, 2011, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from October 31, 2008, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AT 20-33.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on October 23, 2013. (AT 1-3.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed this action in federal district court on December 22, 2013, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 1.)
II. ISSUES PRESENTED
Plaintiff has raised the sole issue of whether the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of the consultative examining psychiatrist concerning plaintiff's mental functional limitations.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel , 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart , 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari , 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue , 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).
A. Summary of the ALJ's Findings
The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB and SSI pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework. At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 31, 2008, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date. (AT 22.) At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, hepatitis C, depression, anxiety, and history of alcohol and drug abuse. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 23.)
Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ...