United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF
THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
E. MCDERMOTT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
4, 2015, Hilda Chavez ("Plaintiff" or
"Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the
decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's
application for Social Security Disability Insurance
benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on September 24,
2015. On June 6, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation
("JS"). The matter is now ready for decision.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed
before this Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings,
transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the
Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision must be
affirmed and this case dismissed with prejudice.
is a 50-year-old female who applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance benefits on February 6, 2012, alleging
disability beginning January 18, 2012. (AR 16.) The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial
gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset
date of January 18, 2012, through her date last insured of
March 31, 2012. (AR18.)
claim was denied initially on May 10, 2012, and on
reconsideration on December 19, 2012. (AR 16.) Plaintiff
filed a timely request for hearing, which was held before
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Michael J. Kopicki
on October 31, 2013, in Pasadena, California. (AR 16.)
Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing with the
assistance of a Spanish-language interpreter and was
represented by Joe G. Solomon, a non-attorney representative.
(AR 16.) Vocational expert ("VE") Jane Haile also
appeared and testified at the hearing. (AR16.)
issued an unfavorable decision on January 31, 2014. (AR
16-25.) The Appeals Council denied review on April 1, 2015.
reflected in the Joint Stipulation, Plaintiff raises the
following disputed issues as grounds for reversal and remand:
1. Whether the ALJ fulfilled his duty to fully and fairly
develop the record.
2. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated treating and examining
3. Whether the ALJ erred in determining the credibility of
4. Whether the ALJ considered the Claimant's combined
impairments when determining Plaintiff's Residual
5. Whether the ALJ erred at Step 4 of the sequential
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's
decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are
supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error.
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir.
1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841,
846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must
be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper
evidence means "'more than a mere scintilla, '
but less than a preponderance." Saelee v.
Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse
as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld.
Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169
F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing
court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not
affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of
supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at
882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989)); see also Qrn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d
625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).
Social Security 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. . . can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step
sequential process to determine whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920.
first step is to determine whether the claimant is presently
engaging in substantial gainful activity. Parra v.
Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If the
claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity,
disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Second, the ALJ must
determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746.
An impairment is not severe if it does not significantly
limit the claimant's ability to work. Smolen, 80
F.3d at 1290. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the
impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed,
in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix I of the
regulations. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. If the
impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the
claimant is presumptively disabled. Bowen, 482 U.S.
at 141. Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment
prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work.
Pinto v. Massanari, 249 F.3d 840, 844-45 (9th Cir.
2001). Before making the step four determination, the ALJ
first must determine the claimant's residual functional
capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The
RFC is "the most [one] can still do despite [his or her]
limitations" and represents an assessment "based on
all the relevant evidence." 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). The RFC must consider all of
the claimant's impairments, including those that are not
severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(e), 416.945(a)(2);
Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-8p.
claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work or has
no past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth step and
must determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant
from performing any other substantial gainful activity.
Moore v. Apfel, 216 F.3d 864, 869 (9th Cir. 2000).
The claimant bears the burden of proving steps one through
four, consistent with the general rule that at all times the
burden is on the claimant to establish his or her entitlement
to benefits. Parra, 481 F.3dat746. Once this prima
facie case is established by the claimant, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to show that the claimant may perform
other gainful activity. Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468
F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006). To support a finding that a
claimant is not disabled at step five, the Commissioner must
provide evidence demonstrating that other work exists in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant
can do, given his or her RFC, age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(g). If the Commissioner
cannot meet this burden, then the claimant is disabled and
entitled to benefits. Id.
case, the ALJ determined at step one of the sequential
process that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the period from her alleged onset date of
January 18, ...