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Jones v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 27, 2016

QUINCY JONES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Quincy Jones (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on December 8, 2015, seeking review of his Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) application’s denial. (Doc. 1 at 1.) On May 13, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Position Statement (“JPS”), in which Plaintiff asks this Court to reverse the final decision and remand his case for re-consideration. (JPS 25-26.) The Commissioner requests that this Court uphold its final determination. (Id. 26.) On January 13, 2016, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Docs. 11, 12, 13.) This Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.


         Plaintiff, who was born on May 8, 1973, filed an SSI application on May 24, 2012. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 62.) Plaintiff alleges that he has been disabled since June 1, 2004. (Id.) Plaintiff attributes his disability to a slipped disc in his lower back, a floating bone in his left ankle, a dislocated right knee, migraines, insomnia, a broken neck, depression, staples in his neck, a hernia, and 17 stitches in his chest. (Id.) Plaintiff previously worked in a warehouse and as a caregiver, but has not worked since June 1, 2004. (Id. 143-44.) The Commissioner initially denied Plaintiff’s claim on January 10, 2013. (Id. 77.) On February 12, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. 85.) ALJ Stuart Kaye held a hearing on December 9, 2013, during which Plaintiff, medical expert Dr. Haddon Alexander III, medical expert Dr. Julian Kivowitz, and Vocational Expert Susan Green (“the VE”) testified.[1] (Id. 45-60.) On February 20, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff’s application for SSI. (Id. 19.) On October 6, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision. (Id. 1-6.)


         The ALJ used the five-step evaluation process in 20 CFR 416.920(a) to conclude that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (AR 22.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since he filed his application. (Id. 24.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s left ankle tear, degenerative disc disease, C2 and C3 fractures, nasal fracture, ethanol abuse, and bipolar disorder are severe because they limit Plaintiff’s ability to perform basic work activities. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments do not equal the severity of impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). (Id. 25.) The ALJ found step four irrelevant because the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has no relevant work experience. (Id. 33.) Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff can perform occupations that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including representative-occupation Cashier II. (Id. 34.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘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.’” Gutierrez v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). “Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ’s findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for the Commissioner’s, this Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner’s] conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec’y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         This Court will uphold the Commissioner’s decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner’s decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination, ’ or if despite the legal error, ‘the agency’s path may reasonably be discerned.’” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted).


         Plaintiff alleges the following errors: (1) that the ALJ could not rely on the VE’s testimony, and (2) that the ALJ improperly considered the record’s medical evidence.

         I. The ALJ Failed to Resolve an Inconsistency in the VE’s Testimony

         Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ improperly accepted the VE’s testimony because the testimony conflicts with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”), and because the VE did not reconcile the alleged conflict. (JPS 6.) The Commissioner contends that the VE’s testimony did not conflict with the DOT and, even ...

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