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Klein v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 25, 2016

EMMA KLEIN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) finding plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of receiving Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). For the reasons discussed below, the court will deny plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and grant the Commissioner’s cross-motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, born May 7, 1967, applied on March 16, 2012 for DIB, alleging disability beginning May 18, 2008. Administrative Transcript (“AT”) 83, 149-52. Plaintiff alleged she was unable to work due to kidney disease, type II diabetes, numbness in both legs, anxiety, and panic attacks. AT 165. In a decision dated June 10, 2014, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled.[1] AT 13-23. The ALJ made the following findings (citations to 20 C.F.R. omitted):

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2013.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of May 18, 2008 though her date last insured of December 31, 2013.
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: diabetes with peripheral neuropathy, coronary artery disease on anti-coagulant therapy, spine degenerative disc disease, obesity, and depression.
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she requires the option to stand up every 30 minutes for 1 to 2 minutes at the workstation to stretch. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, balance, crouch, crawl and kneel. She cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold, humidity, and avoid all exposure to hazards in the workplace such as moving machinery or unprotected heights. She can perform simple, repetitive tasks with occasional interaction with the public.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born on May 7, 1967 and was 46 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the date last insured. The claimant subsequently changed age category to a younger individual age 45-49.
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferrable job skills.
10. Through the date last insured, considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed.
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from May 18, 2008, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2013, the date last insured.

AT 15-23.


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed the following errors in finding plaintiff not disabled: (1) failed to fully and fairly develop the record with regard to plaintiff’s cardiac impairments; (2) improperly found plaintiff’s testimony regarding the extent of her pain and symptoms to be less than fully credible; (3) improperly discounted the lay witness testimony of plaintiff’s husband; (4) made a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination that was not based on substantial evidence; and (5) improperly relied on the vocational expert’s (“VE”) testimony to find plaintiff not disabled at step five of the analysis.


         The court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). “The court will uphold the ALJ’s conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

         The record as a whole must be considered, Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1487 (9th Cir. 1986), and both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ’s conclusion weighed. See Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). The court may not affirm the ALJ’s decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Id.; see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a finding of either disability or nondisability, the finding of the ALJ is conclusive, see Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987), and may be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied in weighing the evidence. See Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. The ALJ Fully and Fairly Developed the Record with Regard to ...

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