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Frias v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 4, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MARGARET A. NAGLE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on May 22, 2013, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI"). On June 20, 2013, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on March 17, 2014, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for further administrative proceedings; and the Commissioner requests that her decision be affirmed or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.


Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on April 24, 2009. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 11, 117-26.) Plaintiff, who was born on August 6, 1955[1] (A.R. 18, 117), claims to have been disabled since April 5, 2009, due to: "headaches; double vision; confusion; seizure activity; back pain; chest pain; shortness of breath; numbness, swelling of legs and hands; pain in right leg; bone pain; cramping of hands and feet; depression; and brain tumor." (A.R. 143 (spelling errors corrected).) Plaintiff has past relevant work ("PRW") experience as a home attendant, janitor, housekeeper, and executive housekeeper. (Id. 18.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon consideration, plaintiff requested a hearing. (A.R. 11.) On October 17, 2011, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Michael D. Radensky (the "ALJ"). (Id. 11, 20, 25-52.) Vocational expert ("VE") Luis O. Mas also testified. (Id. 11, 46-51.) On November 18, 2011, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 11-20), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). That decision is now at issue in this action.


In his November 18, 2011, decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014, and plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 5, 2009, the alleged onset date of her disability. (A.R. 13.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairments of history of craniotomy/brain surgery to remove benign tumors with residual headaches and seizure disorder and borderline intellectual functioning. (Id. ) The ALJ concluded, however, that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the listed impairments 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, 416.926). (Id. 13-14.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work with the following nonexertional limitations: occasionally climb ramps or stairs; cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; other postural activities can be performed frequently; requires appropriate seizure precautions; and limited to unskilled work. (A.R. 15.) In making this finding, the ALJ considered the subjective symptom testimony of plaintiff and the lay witness testimony of plaintiff's daughter, both of whom the ALJ found were not entirely credible, as well as the medical evidence and opinions of record. (Id. 15-18.)

Based on plaintiff's age, education, [2] work experience, and RFC, as well as the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [plaintiff] can perform, " including the jobs of hand packager, dining room attendant, and automotive industry electrician helper. (A.R. 18-19.)

Thus, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since April 5, 2009, the alleged onset date, through November 18, 2011, the date of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 21.)


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 "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart , 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). "While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those reasonably drawn from the record' will suffice." Widmark v. Barnhart , 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).

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." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs. , 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler , 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "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 , 340 F.3d at 874. 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, 885 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Stout v. Comm'r , 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Burch , 400 F.3d at 679.


Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in failing to properly consider: (1) plaintiff's subjective complaints; (2) the lay witness testimony of plaintiff's daughter; and (3) the relevant vocational issues at step 5 of the sequential ...

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