United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
filed this action on September 4, 2016, seeking review of the
Commissioner’s denial of her applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments.
The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned
Magistrate Judge on October 7, 2015, and November 12, 2015.
Pursuant to the Court’s Order, the parties filed a
Joint Stipulation on May 19, 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 August 30, 1964. [Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 38, 192, 199.] She has past relevant
work experience as a food cashier, inventory clerk, shipping
and receiving clerk, and detailer. [AR at 38, 58.]
24, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for a period of
disability and DIB, and an application for SSI payments,
alleging in both that she has been unable to work since May
15, 2011. [AR at 192-98, 199-205.] After her
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration,
plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). [AR at 30,
141.] A hearing was held on October 21, 2014, at which time
plaintiff appeared without representation, and testified on
her own behalf. [AR at 44-65.] A vocational expert
(“VE”), and plaintiff’s sister, also
testified. [AR at 56-60, 61-65.] On October 27, 2014, the ALJ
issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a
disability from May 12, 2012, the alleged onset date, through
October 27, 2014, the date of the decision. [AR at 30-39.]
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ’s decision by the
Appeals Council. [AR at 24-26.] When the Appeals Council
denied plaintiff’s request for review on July 13, 2015
[AR at 1-6], 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.
THE 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 her 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 her past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that she
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 she 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.
THE ALJ’S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 12, 2012, the alleged
onset date. [AR at 32.] At step two, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has the severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease; depressive disorder; bipolar disorder; and
sciatica of the right leg. [Id.] The ALJ found the
following impairments to be non-severe: history of ethanol,
THC, and cocaine abuse, in remission; history of Bell’s
palsy; and eczema. [AR at 32-33.] 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 33.] The ALJ
further found that plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of
medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c),
416.967(c),  as follows:
[C]an lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds
frequently; can stand and/or walk for six hours out of an
eight-hour workday; can sit for six hours out of an
eight-hour workday; unlimited ability to push and pull; can
only frequently climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; can
frequently stoop; moderately limited in maintaining social
functioning and maintaining concentration, persistence, and
pace, such that the individual would need to
[avoid] work with the public that requires more
than superficial contact; and would only be able to do
simple, repetitive work, where that work did not involve
extended periods of concentration.
[AR at 34.] 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 her past relevant work as a fast
food cashier, inventory clerk, shipping and receiving clerk,
and detailer. [AR at 38, 58-59.] 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 “garment folder”
(Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) No.
789.687-066), “seam presser” (DOT No.
789.687-166), and “small parts assembler” (DOT
No. 929.587-010). [AR at 39, 59-60.] Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff was not disabled at any time from
the alleged onset date of May 12, 2012, through October 27,
2014, the date of the decision. [AR at 39.]
THE ALJ’S DECISION
contends that the ALJ erred when he: (1) rejected the
opinions of plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist, Mehar
Gill, M.D.; and (2) rejected plaintiff’s subjective
symptom testimony. [Joint Stipulation (“JS”) at
4.] As set forth below, ...