United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
PAUL L. ABRAMS, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff filed this action on September 3, 2014, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on October 15, 2014, and April 16, 2015. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on May 7, 2015, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.
Plaintiff was born on June 14, 1962. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 21, 165, 169.] He has past relevant work experience as a security guard and a furniture sales person. [AR at 20, 53.]
On September 27, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB, and an application for SSI payments, alleging that he has been unable to work since January 1, 2010. [AR at 13, 165-74.] After his applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 13, 96-98.] A hearing was held on February 12, 2013, at which time plaintiff appeared by video conferencing, represented by an attorney, and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 27-58.] A vocational expert ("VE") also testified. [AR at 52-56.] On February 28, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a disability from January 1, 2010, the alleged onset date, through February 28, 2013, the date of the decision. [AR at 13-22.] Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. [AR at 6.] When the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on June 20, 2014 [AR at 1-3], the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sam v. Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (citations omitted). This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
"Substantial evidence means 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." Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998) (same). When determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted); see Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) ("[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision should be upheld." Ryan, 528 F.3d at 1198 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) ("If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, [the reviewing court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.") (citation omitted).
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
Persons are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).
A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995), as amended April 9, 1996. In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting his ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing") set forth at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient "residual functional capacity" to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of disability is established. Id. The Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not disabled, because he can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. Id. The determination of this issue comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
B. THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. [AR at 15.] At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease. [Id.] At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the impairments in the Listings. [AR at 16.] The ALJ further found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b),  as follows:
[C]an lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequent[ly]. He can stand and walk for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday, and he can sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs.
[Id.] At step four, based on plaintiff's RFC and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant work as a security guard. [AR at 20, 54.] The ALJ made an alternative finding at step five that there are other jobs existing in the national economy that plaintiff is also able to perform, including work as a "cashier" (Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") No. 211.462-010) and "office helper" (DOT No. 239.567-010). [AR at 21-22, 55.] Accordingly, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged onset date of January 1, 2010, through February 28, 2013, the date of the decision. [AR at 22.]
THE ALJ'S DECISION
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred when he: (1) rejected plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony; (2) discounted the opinion of plaintiff's treating source, Hacop Oganyan, M.D.; and (3) ...