United States District Court, C.D. California
DEBRA M. RIQUIER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
E. BIANCHINI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
January of 2012, Plaintiff Debra M. Riquier applied for
Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act.
The Commissioner of Social Security denied the application.
by and through her attorneys, Law Offices of Lawrence D.
Rohlfing, Brian C. Shapiro, Esq. of counsel, commenced this
action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s
denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g)
and 1383 (c)(3).
parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States
Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 9, 10, 27). On May 31, 2016,
this case was referred to the undersigned pursuant to General
Order 05-07. (Docket No. 26).
applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on January 19,
2012, alleging disability beginning July 5, 2011, due to
various impairments. (T at 175-80). The application was denied
initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
August 7, 2013, a hearing was held before ALJ Sharilyn
Hopson. (T at 51). Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and
testified. (T at 55-59, 64-69). The ALJ also received
testimony from Dr. Arnold Ostrow, a medical expert (T at
60-64), and Corine Porter, a vocational expert (T at 69-76).
October 5, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
the application for benefits. (T at 36-50). The ALJ’s
decision became the Commissioner’s final decision on
January 21, 2015, when the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review. (T at 1-7).
March 17, 2015, Plaintiff, acting by and through her counsel,
filed this action seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner’s denial of benefits. (Docket No. 1). The
Commissioner interposed an Answer on October 7, 2015. (Docket
No. 13). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on May 16,
2016. (Docket No. 25).
reviewing the pleadings, Joint Stipulation, and
administrative record, this Court finds that the
Commissioner’s decision must be reversed and this case
be remanded for further proceedings.
Sequential Evaluation Process
Social Security Act (“the 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 which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act also provides that a claimant shall
be determined to be under a disability only if any
impairments are of such severity that he or she is not only
unable to do previous work but cannot, considering his or her
age, education and work experiences, engage in any other
substantial work which exists in the national economy. 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). Thus, the
definition of disability consists of both medical and
vocational components. Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Step one
determines if the person is engaged in substantial gainful
activities. If so, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404. 1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If not,
the decision maker proceeds to step two, which determines
whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or
combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§
claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of
impairments, the disability claim is denied. If the
impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third
step, which compares the claimant’s impairment(s) with
a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the
Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial
gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P App. 1. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the
impairment is not one conclusively presumed to be disabling,
the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step, which determines
whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing
work which was performed in the past. If the claimant is able
to perform previous work, he or she is deemed not disabled.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
At this step, the claimant’s residual functional
capacity (RFC) is considered. If the claimant cannot perform
past relevant work, the fifth and final step in the process
determines whether he or she is able to perform other work in
the national economy in view of his or her residual
functional capacity, age, education, and past work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137 (1987).
initial burden of proof rests upon the claimant to establish
a prima facie case of entitlement to disability
benefits. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921
(9thCir. 1971); Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d
1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999). The initial burden is
met once the claimant establishes that a mental or physical
impairment prevents the performance of previous work. The
burden then shifts, at step five, to the Commissioner to show
that (1) plaintiff can perform other substantial gainful
activity and (2) a “significant number of jobs exist in
the national economy” that the claimant can perform.
Kail v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1496, 1498 (9th
Standard of Review
has provided a limited scope of judicial review of a
Commissioner’s decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A
Court must uphold a Commissioner’s decision, made
through an ALJ, when the determination is not based on legal
error and is supported by substantial evidence. See Jones
v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir.
1985); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097
(9th Cir. 1999).
[Commissioner’s] determination that a plaintiff is not
disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported
by substantial evidence.” Delgado v. Heckler,
722 F.2d 570, 572 (9th Cir. 1983)(citing 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g)). Substantial evidence is more than a mere
scintilla, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112,
1119 n 10 (9th Cir. 1975), but less than a
preponderance. McAllister v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 599,
601-02 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence
“means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept
as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)(citations omitted).
“[S]uch inferences and conclusions as the
[Commissioner] may reasonably draw from the evidence”
will also be upheld. Mark v. Celebreeze, 348 F.2d
289, 293 (9th Cir. 1965). On review, the ...