United States District Court, C.D. California
WILLIAM L. QUEEN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
E. BIANCHINI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
December of 2012, Plaintiff William L. Queen applied for
Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act.
The Commissioner of Social Security denied the application.
Plaintiff, represented by The Law Offices of Bill LaTour,
Jessica Williams-Bronner, Esq., of counsel, commenced this
action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's
denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g)
and 1383 (c)(3).
parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States
Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 23, 24). On May 2, 2016, this
case was referred to the undersigned pursuant to General
Order 05-07. (Docket No. 22).
applied for benefits on December 18, 2012, alleging
disability beginning December 31, 2010, due to various
physical and mental impairments. (T at 16, 70). The application
was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). On November 5, 2014, a hearing was held
before ALJ Joseph Schloss. (T at 34). Plaintiff appeared with
an attorney and testified. (T at 37-52). The ALJ also
received testimony from Troy Scott, a vocational expert (T at
December 4, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
the application for benefits. (T at 13-33). The ALJ's
decision became the Commissioner's final decision on June
5, 2015, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. (T at 1-7).
17, 2015, Plaintiff, acting by and through his counsel, filed
this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's
decision. (Docket No. 1). The Commissioner interposed an
Answer on October 28, 2015. (Docket No. 13). The parties
filed a Joint Stipulation on February 18, 2016. (Docket No.
reviewing the pleadings, Joint Stipulation, and
administrative record, this Court finds that the
Commissioner's decision should be reversed and this case
remanded for further proceedings.
Sequential Evaluation Process
Social Security Act ("the Act") defines disability
as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act also
provides that a claimant shall be determined to be under a
disability only if any impairments are of such severity that
he or she is not only unable to do previous work but cannot,
considering his or her age, education and work experiences,
engage in any other substantial work which exists in the
national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(B). Thus, the definition of disability consists
of both medical and vocational components. Edlund v.
Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir.
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Step one
determines if the person is engaged in substantial gainful
activities. If so, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404. 1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If not,
the decision maker proceeds to step two, which determines
whether the claimant has a medially severe impairment or
combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§
claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of
impairments, the disability claim is denied. If the
impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third
step, which compares the claimant's impairment(s) with a
number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner
to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P App. 1. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the
impairment is not one conclusively presumed to be disabling,
the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step, which determines
whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing
work which was performed in the past. If the claimant is able
to perform previous work, he or she is deemed not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
At this step, the claimant's residual functional capacity
(RFC) is considered. If the claimant cannot perform past
relevant work, the fifth and final step in the process
determines whether he or she is able to perform other work in
the national economy in view of his or her residual
functional capacity, age, education, and past work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137 (1987).
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
a prima facie case of entitlement to disability
benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921
(9thCir. 1971); Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d
1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). The initial burden is
met once the claimant establishes that a mental or physical
impairment prevents the performance of previous work. The
burden then shifts, at step five, to the Commissioner to show
that (1) plaintiff can perform other substantial gainful
activity and (2) a "significant number of jobs exist in
the national economy" that the claimant can perform.
Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th
Standard of Review
has provided a limited scope of judicial review of a
Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A Court
must uphold a Commissioner's decision, made through an
ALJ, when the determination is not based on legal error and
is supported by substantial evidence. See Jones v.
Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985);
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097
(9th Cir. 1999).
[Commissioner's] determination that a plaintiff is not
disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported
by substantial evidence." Delgado v. Heckler,
722 F.2d 570, 572 (9th Cir. 1983)(citing 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g)). Substantial evidence is more than a mere
scintilla, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112,
1119 n 10 (9th Cir. 1975), but less than a
preponderance. McAllister v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 599,
601-02 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence
"means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)(citations omitted).
"[S]uch inferences and conclusions as the [Commissioner]
may reasonably draw from the evidence" will also be
upheld. Mark v. Celebreeze, 348 F.2d 289, 293
(9th Cir. 1965). On review, the Court considers
the record as a whole, not just the evidence supporting the
decision of the Commissioner. Weetman v. Sullivan,
877 F.2d 20, 22 (9th Cir. 1989)(quoting
Kornock v. Harris, 648 F.2d 525, 526 (9th
the role of the Commissioner, not this Court, to resolve
conflicts in evidence. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 400.
If evidence supports more than one rational interpretation,
the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1097; Allen
v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 577, 579 (9th Cir.
1984). Nevertheless, a decision supported by substantial
evidence will still be set aside if the proper legal
standards were not applied in weighing the evidence and
making the decision. Brawner v. Secretary of Health and
Human Services, 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir.
1987). Thus, if there is substantial evidence to support the
administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence
that will support a finding of either disability or
non-disability, the finding of the Commissioner is
conclusive. Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30
(9th Cir. 1987).