United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
PYM United States Magistrate Judge
February 19, 2015, plaintiff Rodolfo Barajas filed a
complaint against defendant, the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“Commissioner”), seeking
a review of a denial of a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”). Both plaintiff and
defendant have consented to proceed for all purposes before
the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c). The court deems the matter suitable for adjudication
without oral argument.
presents two issues for decision: (1) whether the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly
evaluated plaintiff’s transferable skills; and (2)
whether the ALJ properly considered plaintiff’s
credibility. Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff’s
Complaint (“P. Mem.”) at 5-26; Memorandum in
Support of Defendant’s Answer (“D. Mem.”)
at 2-11; Plaintiff’s Reply (“Reply”) at
carefully studied the parties’ written submissions, the
Administrative Record (“AR”), and the decision of
the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein,
although the ALJ properly considered plaintiff’s
credibility, the ALJ erred in determining plaintiff’s
transferable work skills. Consequently, the court remands
this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the
principles and instructions stated herein.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
who was fifty-four years old on his alleged disability onset
date, completed high school. AR at 60, 96, 106, 116, 231. His
past relevant work was as a shipping supervisor, upholstery
supervisor, and assembly room supervisor. Id. at 45,
88, 104, 252, 290.
March 28, 2011, plaintiff filed an application for a period
of disability and DIB, alleging an onset date of March 7,
2009, due to back pain from four discs worn out, pain in both
legs, stress, and shingles. Id. at 96, 106-07, 190.
The Commissioner denied plaintiff’s applications
initially and upon reconsideration, after which plaintiff
filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 96-128, 132.
October 19, 2012 plaintiff appeared and testified at a
hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 58-87. Vocational
expert (“VE”) Martin G. Brodwin also testified.
Id. at 88-91. To update the record before making a
disability determination, the ALJ ordered orthopaedic and
psychological examinations of plaintiff and continued
plaintiff’s hearing. Id. at 92-94.
17, 2013 plaintiff appeared at a second hearing before the
ALJ. Id. at 44. VE Carmen Roman testified at the
hearing. Id. at 44-55 On July 26, 2013, the ALJ
denied plaintiff’s application for benefits.
Id. at 23-33.
the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the
ALJ found, at step one, that although plaintiff engaged in
substantial gainful activity between August 1, 2011 and
September 30, 2011, there was a continuous twelvemonth period
during which plaintiff did not engage in any substantial
gainful activity. Id. at 25-26.
two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffered from the following
impairments that in combination are severe: degenerative disc
disease and spondylosis of the lumbosacral spine with
radiculopathy; dysthymia; and an anxiety disorder in partial
remission by December 11, 2009. Id.
three, the ALJ found plaintiff’s impairments, whether
individually or in combination, did not meet or medically
equal one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R.
part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”).
Id. at 27-28.
then assessed plaintiff’s residual functional capacity
(“RFC”),  and determined plaintiff had the RFC to
perform sedentary work, with the limitations that he could:
lift or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds
frequently; stand or walk for fifteen minutes at once; and
sit for thirty to forty minutes at once. Id. at 28.
The ALJ also determined plaintiff could: no more than
occasionally use foot controls; never climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds; and only occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Id.
Mentally, the ALJ determined plaintiff could perform simple
to semi-skilled work. Id.
found, at step four, plaintiff was incapable of performing
his past relevant work. Id. at 31. The ALJ also
indicated plaintiff acquired from his past relevant work the
following transferable work skills: management skills,
capability to supervise, knowledge of production and
shipping, coordinating production shipping, ability to direct
activities in manufacturing, overseeing paperwork, and
ensuring that processes are completed. Id. at 32.
five, the ALJ found - based on plaintiff’s age,
education, work experience, RFC, and transferable work skills
acquired from past relevant work - there were jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
plaintiff could have performed, including appointment clerk
and order clerk. Id. at 32-33. Consequently, the ALJ
concluded that, for the relevant period, plaintiff did not
suffer from a disability as defined by the Social Security
Act. Id. at 33.
filed a timely request for review of the decision, which the
Appeals Council denied. Id. at 1-3, 17. The
ALJ’s decision stands as the final decision of the
court is empowered to review decisions by the Commissioner to
deny benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The findings and
decision of the Social Security Administration must be upheld
if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial
evidence. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59
(9th Cir. 2001) (as amended). But if the court determines
that the ALJ’s findings are based on legal error or are
not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the
court may reject the findings and set aside the decision to
deny benefits. Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033,
1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d
1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001).
evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a
preponderance.” Aukland, 257 F.3d at 1035.
Substantial evidence is such “relevant evidence which a
reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715,
720 (9th Cir. 1998); Mayes, 276 F.3d at 459. To
determine whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s finding, the reviewing court must review the
administrative record as a whole, “weighing both the
evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from
the ALJ’s conclusion.” Mayes, 276 F.3d
at 459. The ALJ’s decision “‘cannot be
affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
evidence.’” Aukland, 257 F.3d at 1035
(quoting Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th
Cir. 1998)). If the evidence can reasonably support either
affirming or reversing the ALJ’s decision, the
reviewing court “‘may not substitute its judgment
for that of the ALJ.’” Id. (quoting
Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir.
The ALJ Did Not Properly Evaluate Plaintiff’s
argues the ALJ failed to identify or resolve a conflict
between the VE testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“DOT”). P. Mem. at 5-21. Plaintiff
additionally argues that more than a little vocational
adjustment is required for him to perform the “other
work” cited by the ALJ. P. Mem. at 10-25; see
AR at 33 (finding plaintiff not disabled because his
transferable skills provide him the ability to perform other
work that exists in significant numbers in the national
economy including that of an appointment clerk and order
clerk). Plaintiff contends the ALJ’s implicit finding,
based on the VE’s testimony, that “very little,
if any, adjustment in terms of tools, work process, work
setting, or the industry” would be required of
plaintiff in applying transferable skills to other work is
not consistent with agency policies, the DOT, or the Selected
Characteristics of Occupations Titles (“SOC”). 20
C.F.R. § 404.1568(d)(4); see P. Mem. at 5-21;
AR at 32-33, 52-53.
support finding a claimant not disabled at step four or five,
the ALJ must cite evidence demonstrating either that the
claimant can perform his past work, or that other work exists
in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant can perform, given his or her age, education, work
experience, and RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), (f),
416.920(e), (f). The DOT is the rebuttable presumptive
authority on job classifications. Johnson v.
Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1435 (9th Cir. 1995). ALJs
routinely rely on the DOT “in evaluating whether the
claimant is able to perform other work in the national
economy.” Te ...