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Hodges v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 3, 2015

DAVID HODGES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARGARET A. NAGLE, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on May 13, 2013, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental social security income ("SSI"). On June 18, 2013, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 7, 9.) On April 10, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") in which plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and ordering the payment of benefits. (Joint Stip. at 39.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or, in the alternative, that the case be remanded for further proceedings. (Id. at 40) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On October 5, 2010, plaintiff, then 55 years old, [1] applied for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 142, 146.) This was plaintiff's fourth application for DIB. (A.R. 54.) The Commissioner denied plaintiff's three prior applications. ( See id. )

Plaintiff alleged disability commencing August 1, 2009, due to thyroid, kidney, skin, and back problems as well as high blood pressure. (A.R. 84, 142, 146.) Plaintiff had previously worked as a health care companion, a landscape laborer, and as a warehouse worker. (Id. 21, 31-33, 40-43.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially (A.R.84-88) and on reconsideration (A.R. 92-97). On April 18, 2011, plaintiff requested a hearing. (A.R. 98-99.) On March 26, 2012, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified before Administrative Law Judge John C. Tobin ("ALJ"). (A.R. 27-52.) Randi Langford-Hetrick, a vocational expert ("VE"), also testified. (Id. 40-51.) On March 30, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying plaintiff's claims for DIB and SSI. (Id. 15-21.) On February 22, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Id. 6-8; see also id. 1.)

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from his amended onset date of September 17, 2010. (A.R. 17.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the severe medically determinable impairments of: a back disorder; arthritis; asymptomatic Grave's disease; depression, stable. (Id. ) The ALJ also concluded that plaintiff's impairments do not satisfy the requirements of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). (Id. 17-18.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "light work" in the "unskilled to lower range of semi-skilled work." (A.R. 18.) The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant work as a companion (DOT 309.677-010) and landscape laborer (DOT 408.687-014). (Id. 21.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. )

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). "Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record." Molina v. Astrue , 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Lingenfelter v. Astrue , 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs. , 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala , 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn , 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart , 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, ...


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