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Walker v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 31, 2015

JULIAN NOEL WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT

GARY S. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Julian Noel Walker ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income benefits under the Social Security Act. The matter is pending before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.[1]

SUMMARY OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On March 31, 2010, an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits was filed on behalf of Plaintiff, who was then a child under the age of 18. AR 19. The claim was denied initially on July 9, 2010, and upon reconsideration on October 5, 2010. AR 19. Plaintiff attained the age of 18 on July 21, 2011. AR 33; 35. Subsequently, on November 4, 2011, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on Plaintiff's claim. AR 40-58. Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and testified at the hearing; a vocational expert also appeared and testified. AR 29-76. In a decision dated December 16, 2011, the ALJ found that Plaintiff "was not disabled as defined in section 1614(a)(3)(C) of the Social Security Act prior to July 20, 2011, the date he attained age 18." AR 35. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff was not "disabled as defined in section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act" after July 20, 2011 through the date of the decision. AR 35. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 10-12. Plaintiff then commenced this action in District Court.

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 interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Id. The ALJ's findings will be upheld "if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record." Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff asserts the following claims: (1) the ALJ erred in failing to consider whether Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(a); (2) the ALJ erred in failing to determine the onset date of Plaintiff's disability pursuant to Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 83-20; (3) the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence; (4) the ALJ erred under SSR 82-41 in finding that Plaintiff has transferable skills; (5) the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff did not have a medically determinable severe impairment; and (6) the ALJ made an erroneous credibility determination. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ's decision is free of legal error and is supported by substantial evidence.

A. The ALJ Properly Found that Plaintiff had Not Engaged in SGA

Contrary to Plaintiff's assertion that the ALJ failed to consider whether Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial, gainful activity since the date of his application. AR 24. The ALJ made this finding at step one in applying both the childhood and adult standards of disability. Therefore, the Plaintiff prevailed at step one of both applicable disability analyses.

Plaintiff also alleges that the ALJ did not properly consider a prior administrative decision in which an ALJ found that Plaintiff was disabled from "June 1, 2005 to February 5, 2008, but not thereafter." AR 63. However, the ALJ did properly consider the prior administrative decision, dated May 8, 2009 (the merits of that decision are not at issue in this appeal). Specifically, the ALJ acknowledged that "if a prior application denied by an administration law judge contained findings of the claimant's residual functional capacity, education, and work experience, the Social Security Administration may not make different findings in adjudicating the subsequent claim unless there is new and material evidence pertaining to the claimant's residual functional capacity, education, or work experience." AR 20; see also Chavez v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 691 (9th Cir. 1988) (a previous ALJ's findings concerning residual functional capacity, education, and work experience are entitled to some res judicata consideration and such findings cannot be reconsidered by a subsequent judge absent new information not presented to the first judge); Acquiescence Ruling 97-4. The ALJ further observed that the presumptive validity of the prior administrative findings was rebutted in this instance because "because new and material evidence has been obtained since the prior Administrative Law Judge decision, " i.e., new medical evidence. AR 20; see Stubbs-Danielson v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 1169, 1172-73 (9th Cir. 2008) (medical evaluations conducted after a prior adjudication constitute new and material evidence); Trofimuk v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 2:12-cv-2482-KJN, 2014 WL 794343, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2014) (where the ALJ relies entirely on medical evaluations conducted after a prior adjudication, the ALJ is ...


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