United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
filed this action on September 18, 2015, seeking review of
the Commissioner’s denial of his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The
parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned
Magistrate Judge on October 5, 2015, and June 22, 2016.
Pursuant to the Court’s Order, the parties filed a
Joint Stipulation on May 17, 2016, that addresses their
positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The
Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission
without oral argument.
was born on May 13, 1974. [Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 38, 196.] He has past relevant work
experience as a forklift driver, inventory control clerk,
general office clerk, and warehouse worker. [AR at 38,
4, 2012, plaintiff protectively filed an application for a
period of disability and DIB, alleging that he has been
unable to work since June 1, 2009. [AR at 26, 196.] After his
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration,
plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). [AR at 26,
131-32.] A hearing was held on September 24, 2013, at which
time plaintiff appeared with a non-attorney representative,
and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 45-88.] A vocational
expert (“VE”) also testified. [AR at 75-87.] On
January 10, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that
plaintiff was not under a disability from June 1, 2009, the
alleged onset date, through September 30, 2013, the date last
insured. [AR at 26-40.] Plaintiff requested review of the
ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council. [AR at 21.] When
the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for
review on July 20, 2015 [AR at 2-7], 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
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).
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
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.
FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
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.
ALJ’S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2009, the alleged
onset date. [AR at 28.] At step two, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has the severe impairments of obesity;
shoulder, back, and neck impairments; and depression.
[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 Listing. [AR at 29.] The ALJ further found
that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b),  as follows:
[H]e can no to rarely climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he
can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; he can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; he can frequently
reach overhead bilaterally; he is limited to no to rare
exposure to unprotected heights; he can perform a full range
of unskilled work that is all reasoning levels of unskilled
work as indicated in the DOT [Dictionary of Occupational
Titles]; he is precluded from jobs that require directing
others or abstract thought or planning; and he should have
superficial, and no direct interaction with the public.
31.] At step four, based on plaintiff’s RFC and the
testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is
unable to perform any of his past relevant work as a forklift
driver, inventory control clerk, general office clerk, and
warehouse worker. [AR at 38, 76-79.] At step five, based on
plaintiff’s RFC, vocational factors, and the VE’s
testimony, the ALJ found that there are jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff
can perform, including work as a
“cleaner/housekeeper” (DOT No. 323.687-014),
“production inspector” (DOT No. 559.687-074), and
“small parts assembler” (DOT No. 706.684-022).
[AR at 39, 80-83.] Accordingly, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged onset
date of June 1, 2009, through September 30, 2013, the date
last insured. [AR at 39.] / /
THE ALJ’S DECISION
contends that the ALJ erred when she: (1) failed to either
credit or validly reject the mental function assessments of
the examining psychiatrist, Jaga Nath Glassman, M.D.; (2)
granted little or no weight to the physical function
assessments of plaintiff’s treating physicians:
physiatrist Ron Brizzie, M.D., and pain management specialist
Yogesh Patel, M.D.; and (3) rejected plaintiff’s
subjective symptom testimony. [Joint Stipulation
(“JS”) at 5.] Plaintiff also contends that the
Appeals Council erred in rejecting the assessments of
orthopedic surgeon Ralph Steiger, M.D. As set forth below,
the Court agrees with plaintiff, in part, and remands for