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Stevens v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 28, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         On April 9, 2013, Plaintiff Eric Paul Stevens (“Plaintiff”) applied for supplemental security income based on a disabling condition beginning November 29, 2009. (AR 194). On August 20, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Sally C. Reason heard testimony from Plaintiff. (AR 37-47). A supplemental hearing was held on February 23, 2015, and the ALJ heard testimony from medical expert (“M.E.”) Lynne Jahnke and vocational expert Ronald Hatakeyama. (AR 48-59). On February 25, 2015, the ALJ denied Plaintiff benefits in a written decision. (AR 21-30). The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision. (AR 1-3).

         On August 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) alleging that the Social Security Administration erred in denying benefits. (Docket Entry No. 1). On January 13, 2016, Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint, (Docket Entry No. 14), and the Certified Administrative Record (“AR”), (Docket Entry No. 15). The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry Nos. 10, 12). On March 25, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) setting forth their respective positions on Plaintiff’s claims. (Docket Entry No. 17).

         For the reasons discussed below, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is AFFIRMED.


         The ALJ applied the five-step process in evaluating Plaintiff’s case. (AR 21-23). At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after the date of his application. (AR 23). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s severe impairments included degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spinal area, diverticulosis, hepatitis C, ventral hernia, and obesity. (AR 23). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or equal a listing found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR 23-24).

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to “lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand and/or walk up to two hours in an eight-hour workday (no more than thirty minutes continuously), and sit without restriction, with no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, no more than occasional postural activities (i.e., balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, or climbing ramps or stairs); no exposure to unprotected heights; and no concentrated exposure to vibrations or extreme cold or heat.” (AR 24). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff required “the ability to take a standing break once per hour (approximately five minutes in duration) at his workstation.” (AR 24). In formulating an RFC, the ALJ summarized medical evidence including a July 2011 opinion by examining physician Karl Epstein, M.D. (AR 25, 27-28). The ALJ gave Dr. Epstein’s opinion “significant probative weight, ” observing that Dr. Epstein had stated that Plaintiff could “work with proper motivation including[] sitting, standing and walking no greater than [two] hours.” (AR 28) (second alteration in original).

         At steps four and five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work but could work as a telephone information clerk or a lens inserter, optical goods industry. (AR 28-30). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 30).


         This court reviews the Administration’s decision to determine if the decision is free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. See Brewes v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial evidence” is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, “a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner’s] conclusion.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation omitted). As a result, “[i]f the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ’s conclusion, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006).


         Plaintiff’s contends that Dr. Epstein assessed limitations inconsistent with Plaintiff performing full time work, and the ALJ was therefore required to either provide specific and legitimate reasons for partially rejecting Dr. Epstein’s opinion or ...

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