United States District Court, N.D. California
ALVINA M. CURIEL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, AND GRANTING DEFENDANT’S CROSS-MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT DOCKET NOS. 18, 19
M. CHEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Alvina M. Curiel seeks
judicial review of the Social Security Administration's
(“SSA”) final decision denying her applications
for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. Currently pending before the Court are the
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Having
considered the parties' briefs and accompanying
submissions, the Court hereby DENIES Ms. Curiel's motion
and GRANTS the SSA's.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
and June 2012, Ms. Curiel filed applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. In both
applications, she alleged disability beginning August 10,
2010. See AR 352-59. The SSA initially denied the
claims in October 2012, and again upon reconsideration in May
2013. See AR 142-43, 182-83. Ms. Curiel then sought
a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). See AR 252-57.
Richard P. Laverdure held a hearing on Ms. Curiel's
applications in February 2014. See AR 66-100. Ms.
Curiel appeared and testified at the hearing. An independent
medical expert and a vocational expert also testified at the
hearing. A supplemental hearing was thereafter held in March
2014, during which Ms. Curiel provided additional testimony.
See AR 57-65. Subsequently, on June 20, 2014, the
ALJ issued his decision, concluding that Ms. Curiel was not
disabled under the Social Security Act. See AR
decision, AJL Laverdure applied the five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether an individual is
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a); 416.920(a).
At step one, the ALJ found that there was insufficient
evidence to determine whether Ms. Curiel had engaged in
substantial gainful activity since August 10, 2010, the
alleged onset date for disability. See AR 27.
However, the ALJ effectively assumed that, for purposes of
his opinion, Ms. Curiel had not and proceeded to step two.
two, the ALJ found that Ms. Curiel had “the following
severe impairments: obesity, bilateral knee degenerative
joint disease and arthritis, alcohol dependence, depressive
disorder NOS [not otherwise specified], anxiety disorder NOS,
[and] Borderline Intellectual Functioning (BIF).” AR at
28. At step three, the ALJ determined that Ms. Curiel did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of the listed impairments in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. See AR
four, the ALJ concluded that, based on her medical
impairments, Ms. Curiel had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) “to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 CFR [§§] 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a)
except she should avoid concentrated exposure to chemical
fumes, odors, dusts and gases, and is limited to simple,
repetitive, tasks with only occasional public
interaction.” AR 30. He then held that, based on that
RFC, Ms. Curiel was not able to perform any of her past
relevant work, as that work constituted light, rather than
sedentary, work. See AR 36.
five, however, the ALJ determined that Ms. Curiel was not
disabled. See AR 36. In making this determination,
the ALJ relied on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, also
known as the “grids.” The grids set forth rules
that identify whether jobs requiring a specific combination
of four factors (namely, RFC, age, work experience, and
education) exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. See Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1075
(9th Cir. 2007). More specifically,
[f]or claimants found capable of sedentary, light, or medium
work, the [Social Security] regulations provide three grids,
one corresponding to each level of residual functional
capacity. These grids account for the vocational factors of
age, education, and work experience . . . The ALJ determines
a claimant's age, education, and work experience and
reads from the appropriate table and line the conclusion of
whether the claimant is disabled.
Calvin v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 802, 804 (9th Cir.
1986); see also Vanley v. Astrue, No. 2:12-cv-00791
CKD, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84956, at *30 (E.D. Cal. June 17,
2013) (noting that factors under the grids “include the
claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience” and, “[f]or each
combination, the grids direct a finding of either
'disabled' or 'not disabled'”).
Because the grids are merely an administrative tool to
resolve individual claims that fall into standardized
patterns, there are limits on when the ALJ may rely on them.
“[T]he ALJ may apply [the grids] in lieu of taking the
testimony of a vocational expert only when the grids
accurately and completely describe the claimant's
abilities and limitations.”
Id; see also Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1340
(9th Cir. 1988) (noting that “[t]he grids are an
administrative tool the [SSA] may rely on when considering
claimants with substantially uniform levels of
impairment”). “When the grids do not match the
claimant's qualifications, the ALJ can either (1) use the
grids as a framework and make a determination of what work
exists that the claimant can perform, or (2) rely on a
vocational expert when the claimant has significant
non-exertional limitations.” Hoopai, 499 F.3d
Curiel's case, the ALJ noted that, if she had the RFC
“to perform the full range of sedentary work,
considering [her] age, education, and work experience, a
finding of 'not disabled' would be directed by
Medical-Vocational Rule 201.25.” AR 36. But, the ALJ
acknowledged, Ms. Curiel's RFC included nonexertional
limitations - i.e., that “she should avoid
concentrated exposure to chemical fumes, odors, dusts and
gases, and is ...