United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
ROBERTO C. REYES PARRA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
J. WISTRICH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of
defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying
plaintiff's applications for supplemental security income
and disability insurance benefits. The parties have filed a
Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their
contentions with respect to each disputed issue.
alleges disability beginning on August 24, 2008 due to a back
injury. [Administrative Record ("AR") 205]. In a
written hearing decision dated May 10, 2013, the
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") concluded that
plaintiff had medically determinable impairments consisting
of degenerative disc disease and obesity, but that those
impairments were not severe, singly or in combination. [AR
22]. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not
disabled at any time through the date of his decision. [AR
28]. On October 14, 2014, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision.
Commissioner's denial of benefits should be disturbed
only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is
based on legal error. Stout v. Comm'r Social Sec.
Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006); Thomas
v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).
"Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bayliss
v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005).
"It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burch
v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)(internal
quotation marks omitted). The court is required to review the
record as a whole and to consider evidence detracting from
the decision as well as evidence supporting the decision.
Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th
Cir. 2006); Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089
(9th Cir. 1999). "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." Thomas, 278 F.3d at 954 (citing
Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d
595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999)).
contends that the ALJ erred in finding that he did not suffer
from a severe impairment. [JS 4-7].
two of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determines
whether the claimant has any severe, medically determinable
impairment that meets the durational requirement.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4); see also Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d
1273, 1289-1290 (9th Cir. 1996). A medically determinable
impairment is one that results "from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be
shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must
be established by medical evidence consisting of signs,
symptoms and laboratory findings, not only by [the
claimant's] statement of symptoms." 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1508, 416.908; see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520a(b)(1), 416.920a(b)(1).
assess severity, the ALJ must determine whether a
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to
perform "basic work activities."20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1521(a), 416.921(a); Webb v.
Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005). The ALJ is
required to consider the claimant's subjective symptoms
in making a severity determination, provided that the
claimant "first establishes by objective medical
evidence (i.e., signs and laboratory findings) that he or she
has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s)
and that the impairment(s) could reasonably be expected to
produce the alleged symptom(s)." SSR 96-3p, 1996 WL
374181, at *2. A medically determinable impairment or
combination of impairments may be found "‘not
severe only if the evidence establishes a slight
abnormality that has no more than a minimal effect on an
individual's ability to work.'" Webb,
433 F.3d at 686 (quoting Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1290).
The ALJ "may find that a claimant lacks a medically
severe impairment or combination of impairments only when
[that] conclusion is clearly established by medical
evidence." Webb, 433 F.3d at 687 (internal
quotation marks omitted).
the ALJ erred in finding that plaintiff's back impairment
was not severe. First, the objective medical evidence
included MRIs of plaintiff's lumbar spine performed in
December 2008, August 2009, and November 2011 that revealed
degenerative disc disease on multiple levels with a large
herniation at L4-L5. [See AR 309, 312-313, 497-498,
513]. Similarly, x-rays taken in April 2012 showed a large
disc herniation at L4-L5 with bilateral facet joint arthritis
and degenerative disc disease at L2-L3, L3-L4 and L4-L5. [AR
409]. Subsequent x-rays taken in August 2012 revealed
"splinting" of plaintiff's lumbar spine
suggesting muscle spasm. [AR 427].
the medical opinions in the record indicate that
plaintiff's back impairment had, at the very least, more
than a minimal effect on plaintiff's ability to work. For
example, in May 2009, Andrew Jarminski, M.D., plaintiff's
treating internist, noted that plaintiff had injured his back
while lifting pallets at work. [AR 401]. Dr. Jarminski
performed a physical examination and found that plaintiff had
a limited and painful range of motion of his lumbar spine,
paralumbar muscle tenderness at L4 through S1, decreased L5
sensation in the lower extremities, and a positive bilateral
straight leg raise test. [AR 403]. After reviewing
plaintiff's records, Dr. Jarminski diagnosed lumbar spine
discopathy and lower extremity radiculitis. [AR 403]. Dr.
Jarminski concluded that plaintiff's back impairment was
"clearly in need of surgical intervention." [AR
2010, plaintiff was evaluated by James Hamada, M.D., an
orthopedic surgeon. The examination revealed a limited range
of motion of the lumbar spine, a positive straight leg raise
test on the right with a positive Lasegue sign, tenderness
with muscle spasm from L4 through S1, and decreased sensation
over the left L5 dermatome. [AR 304-305]. Dr. Hamada
diagnosed L4-L5 herniated nucleus pulposus and ...