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Devery v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 22, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Deborah Devery (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Commissioner’s denial of her applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and the action is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Order.


         On September 13, 2012, Plaintiff applied for DBI and SSI alleging disability beginning June 15, 2010 (her alleged onset date (“AOD”)). (Administrative Record (“AR”) 181-97). Her applications were denied initially on March 5, 2013, and upon reconsideration on September 27, 2013. (AR 55-106.) On October 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing, and a hearing was held on April 30, 2014. (AR 34-54, 124-25.) Represented by counsel, Plaintiff appeared and testified, along with an impartial vocational expert. (AR 34-54.) On August 28, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act, [1] from the AOD through the decision date. (AR 28.) The ALJ’s decision became the Commissioner’s final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review. (AR 1-4.) Plaintiff filed this action on October 30, 2015. (Dkt. No. 1.)

         The ALJ followed a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the AOD. (AR 11.) At step two, the ALJ found that from the AOD to December 31, 2012, Plaintiff has the medically determinable impairments of dysthymia; and left thumb and left elbow pain, but she does not have a severe impairment. (AR 12.) From January 1, 2013 to the present, Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: arthralgia; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); depressive disorder, not otherwise specified (NOS); and anxiety disorder. (AR 15.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (Id.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform medium work . . . . [S]he can lift and carry no more than 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; she has unlimited sitting abilities; she can stand and walk six hours total in an eight-hour workday and must be able to alternate sitting and standing briefly every two hours with normal breaks. She would also have non-exertional mental limitations as follows: she can understand and remember simple routine tasks; carry out short and simple instructions; make judgments and decisions consistent with simple routine duties; she can carry out detailed instructions on an occasional basis; and she would have a little difficulty in reacting and responding to supervisors, co-workers, and the public - limited to occasional contact with those individuals.

(AR 20.)

         At step four, based on Plaintiff’s RFC and the VE’s testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a Cleaner, Commercial or Institutional, and Tow-Truck Operator (driver). (AR 27.) Accordingly, the ALJ did not proceed to step five, and instead, found that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from the AOD through the date of the ALJ’s decision. (AR 28.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits. A court must affirm an ALJ’s findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence, and if the proper legal standards were applied. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001). “‘Substantial evidence’ means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). An ALJ can satisfy the substantial evidence requirement “by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

         “[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Secretary’s conclusion.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotations omitted). “‘Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, ’ the ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)); see also Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (“If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.”). The Court may review only “the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003)).

         IV. ...

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