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See v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 31, 2015

EE TONG SEE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Ee Tong See asserts she is entitled to supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff argues the administrative law judge ("ALJ") improperly evaluated the opinion of a treating physician, and seeks review of the administrative decision denying her claims for benefits. Because the ALJ identified specific and legitimate reasons to reject the opinion and the residual functional capacity is supported by substantial evidence in the record, the ALJ's decision is AFFIRMED.


Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income on October 27, 2010, alleging disability beginning December 1, 2009. (Doc. 9-3 at 17.) The Social Security Administration denied her claim initially and upon reconsideration. (Doc. 9-4.) After requesting a hearing, Plaintiff testified before an ALJ on July 6, 2012. ( See Doc. 9-3 at 33.) The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled, and issued an order denying benefits on August 3, 2012. (Id. at 14-27.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council of Social Security, which was denied. (Id. at 5-7.) Therefore, the ALJ's determination became the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner").


District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of fact, such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court must uphold the ALJ's determination that the claimant is not disabled if the proper legal standards were applied and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).

Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as a whole must be considered, because "[t]he court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).


To qualify for benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish 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). The burden of proof is on a claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). When a claimant establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove the claimant is able to engage in other substantial gainful employment. Maounis v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984).


To achieve uniform decisions, the Commissioner established a sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920 (a)-(f). The process requires the ALJ to determine whether Plaintiff (1) engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged disability, (2) had medically determinable severe impairments (3) that met or equaled one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether Plaintiff (4) had the residual functional capacity to perform to past relevant work or (5) the ability to perform other work existing in significant numbers at the state and national level. Id. In making these determinations, the ALJ must consider testimonial evidence and objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927.

A. Relevant Medical Evidence[1]

Plaintiff had an initial assessment with Dr. Angela Crisanto at the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency on December 31, 2009. (Doc. 9-8 at 167.) Plaintiff "reported increasing depression over the past 4 years, " which had "increased significantly" in the past several months." (Id. ) Plaintiff said she stayed in bed or on the couch all day, lost interest in activities, and "ha[d] to be prompted to shower and go to the restroom." (Id. ) She had "no motivation to shower or maintain good personal hygiene." (Id. ) Dr. Crisanto diagnosed Plaintiff with a major depressive disorder and gave her a GAF score of 50.[2] (Id. at 172.)

In January 2010, Plaintiff reported she "cooked two meals in two weeks and ha[d] not gone anywhere else because she [did] not feel like it." (Doc. 9-8 at 164.) She agreed to "attend two community functions weekly to alleviate isolation" and "explore pleasurable activities to promote wellness." (Id. at 165.) In February 2010, Plaintiff continued to report that she was not cooking or engaging in ...

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