United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT
GARY S. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Sia Vang Lee ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.
II. BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
Plaintiff is currently 47 years old. AR 32. She does not read, write, or speak English. AR 34. In 2004, 2005, and 2009, Plaintiff worked briefly for one month each year for Knapp Farms picking blueberries, but she has not worked since (or before) then. AR 35, 168. Plaintiff has seven children, two of whom are under the age of 18. AR 33. She lives with her children and her husband. AR 33.
Plaintiff's alleged physical conditions include sciatica, a tailbone/spinal injury, back/chest pain, arthritis, and ulcers. AR 173. She also alleges psychiatric conditions, including depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. Id. She currently takes a number of medications to manage her symptoms, including acetaminophen, fluoxetine, gabapentin, omeprazole, and trazodone. AR 176.
Plaintiff previously applied for SSI in 2005, but her application was denied after a hearing in front of the Social Security Administration. AR 560. On August 31, 2010, Plaintiff filed a new application for disability insurance benefits under Title XVI. AR 155-161. This application was denied initially on March 22, 2011 and on reconsideration on August 11, 2011. AR 94-99, 103-107. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on October 6, 2011. AR 108. The hearing was then conducted before Administrative Law Judge Danny Pittman (the "ALJ") on July 10, 2012. AR 28. On August 23, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision determining that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 12-22. Plaintiff filed an appeal of this decision with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied her appeal, rendering the order the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 6-9.
III. THE DISABILITY DETERMINATION PROCESS
To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, a plaintiff must establish that he or she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:
... his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
To achieve uniformity in the decision-making process, the Commissioner has established a sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f). The ALJ proceeds through the steps and stops upon reaching a dispositive finding that the claimant is or is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The ALJ must consider objective medical evidence and opinion testimony. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.927, 416.929.
Specifically, the ALJ is required to determine: (1) whether a claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged disability, (2) whether the claimant had medically-determinable "severe" impairments,  (3) whether these impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, (4) whether the claimant retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform his past relevant work,  and (5) whether the claimant had the ability to perform other jobs existing in significant numbers at the regional and national level. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f).
Using the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not meet the disability standard. AR 12-22. In particular, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 31, 2010, the date specified in her application. AR 17. Further, the ALJ identified depressive disorder, fibromyalgia, headaches, gastritis, sciatica, obsessive compulsive disorder, ulcers, osteoarthritis posttraumatic stress disorder, gastroesophageal reflux disease as medically determinable impairments. AR 18. Nonetheless, the ALJ determined at step two of the five-step process that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities for twelve consecutive months. AR 18. Based on a review of the entire record, the ALJ thus determined that Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. The analysis thus terminated and the ALJ did not proceed to any further steps.
IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether: (1) it is supported by substantial evidence; and (2) it applies the correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007).
"Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). It is "relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational ...