United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING
ROSENBLUTH U.S. Magistrate Judge
seeks review of the Commissioner’s final decision
denying his application for Social Security disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”). The parties consented
to the jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge
under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The matter is before the Court
on the parties’ Joint Stipulation, filed January 19,
2016, which the Court has taken under submission without oral
argument. For the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.
was born in 1955. (Administrative Record (“AR”)
150.) He completed sixth grade and worked as a waiter. (AR
25, 2012, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that he had
been unable to work since June 10, 2010, because of back
pain, right-shoulder and -leg pain, high cholesterol, and
high blood pressure. (AR 17, 77-78, 150-53, 166.) After his
application was denied initially and on reconsideration, he
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. (AR
89-90.) A hearing was held on November 13, 2013, at which
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did
a vocational expert and two medical experts. (AR 39-66.) In a
written decision issued November 19, 2013, the ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 17-29.) On March 27, 2015, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review.
(AR 1-5.) This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the
Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits. The
ALJ’s findings and decision should be upheld if they
are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence
based on the record as a whole. See id.;
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007).
Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable
person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more
than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.
Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins
v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)).
To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding,
the reviewing court “must review the administrative
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner’s
conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715,
720 (9th Cir. 1996). “If the evidence can reasonably
support either affirming or reversing, ” the reviewing
court “may not substitute its judgment” for the
Commissioner’s. Id. at 720-21.
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 has lasted,
or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least
12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828
n.5 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended Apr. 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 must be denied. §
claimant is not 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, the claimant is not
disabled and his claim must be denied. §
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. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
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
(“RFC”) to perform his past work; if so, he is not
disabled and the claim must be denied. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving he
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets that burden, a prima
facie case of disability is established. Id.
happens or if the claimant has no past relevant work, 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.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the
sequential analysis. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v);
Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5; Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257.
The ALJ’s Application of the Five-Step Process
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 10, 2010, the alleged
onset date. (AR 19.) At step two, he concluded that Plaintiff
had the severe impairments of tendonitis and low-back pain.
(AR 20.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff’s
gastrointestinal reflux disease and mental impairments were
nonsevere (AR 20-23), findings Plaintiff does not challenge.
At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s
impairments did not meet or equal any of the impairments in
the Listing. (AR 23.) At step four, he found that Plaintiff
had the RFC to perform “a wide range of light
work”; specifically, he could
lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; stand, walk and sit each up to 6 hours in . . .
an 8-hour workday, with normal breaks; push and pull with the
right upper extremity occasionally; never climb a ladder,
rope or scaffolds; climb a ramp and stairs occasionally;
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl occasionally; and,
unable to reach at or above shoulder level with the right
(AR 23.) Based on the VE’s testimony, the ALJ concluded
that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a
waiter. (AR 28.) He also found that Plaintiff could perform
other work in the economy. (AR 29.) Accordingly, the ALJ
found Plaintiff not disabled. (Id.)
contends that the ALJ erred in (1) rejecting the opinion of
his treating physician, Dr. William To, and (2) discounting
his subjective complaints. (J. Stip. at 2-3.) For the reasons
discussed below, remand is not warranted.
The ALJ Properly Assessed the Medical Evidence
argues that the ALJ should have credited Dr. To’s
assessment of Plaintiff’s physical limitations and need
for a cane because it was well supported by the medical
evidence and uncontradicted by the opinion of any treating or
examining physician. (J. Stip. at 3-10, 8-10.)
types of physicians may offer opinions in Social Security
cases: (1) those who directly treated the plaintiff, (2)
those who examined but did not treat the plaintiff, and (3)
those who did neither. Lester, 81 F.3d at 830. A
treating physician’s opinion is generally entitled to
more weight than an examining physician’s, and an