United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING
ROSENBLUTH U.S. Magistrate Judge.
seeks review of the Commissioner’s final decision
denying his application for supplemental security income
benefits (“SSI”). The parties consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge under
28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The matter is before the Court on
the parties’ Joint Stipulation, filed April 25, 2016,
which the Court has taken under submission without oral
argument. For the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.
was born in 1959. (Administrative Record (“AR”)
127.) He completed 11th grade and worked as a house painter
and handyman. (AR 36-37.)
December 11, 2008, Plaintiff filed for SSI, alleging that he
had been unable to work since May 1, 2006 (AR 65, 127),
because of lower-back and tail-bone problems (AR 66, 135).
After his applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration, he requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge. (AR 66, 72, 88.) A hearing was held
on November 2, 2010, at which Plaintiff, who was represented
by counsel, testified, as did a vocational and a medical
expert. (AR 32-63.) In a written decision issued December 9,
2010, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 18-25.)
October 3, 2011, Plaintiff sought review of the
Commissioner’s decision in this Court. (AR 316-18.) On
July 10, 2012, a magistrate judge found that the ALJ had
erred in relying on the VE’s testimony that Plaintiff
could perform jobs requiring constant or frequent reaching
notwithstanding his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) for only occasional work above the
shoulder. (AR 293-300.) The magistrate judge remanded the
case for further proceedings. (AR 300.)
September 25, 2012, the Appeals Council vacated the
ALJ’s decision and remanded the case for further
proceedings consistent with the Court’s order. (AR
321.) On April 23, 2013, a second ALJ held a hearing, at
which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified,
as did a second VE. (AR 260-91.) In a written decision issued
July 22, 2013, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR
247-54.) On May 5, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review,
specifically finding that the ALJ had “properly
evaluated the evidence of record and provided good reasons
for affording less or no weight to certain medical
opinions.” (AR 221.) Plaintiff then filed this action,
which was assigned to the undersigned magistrate judge
because of the unavailability of the first magistrate judge.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the
Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits. The
ALJ’s findings and decision should be upheld if they
are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence
based on the record as a whole. See id.;
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007).
Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable
person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more
than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.
Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins
v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)).
To determine whether substantial evidence supports a 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 Commissioner’s
conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715,
720 (9th Cir. 1996). “If the evidence can reasonably
support either affirming or reversing, ” the reviewing
court “may not substitute its judgment” for the
Commissioner’s. Id. at 720-21.
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or has lasted,
or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least
12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828
n.5 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended Apr. 9, 1996). In the first
step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the
claimant is not disabled and the claim must be denied. §
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether
the claimant has a “severe” impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting her ability
to do basic work activities; if not, the claimant is not
disabled and the claim must be denied. §
claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination
of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R.
part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is
conclusively presumed. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments
does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the
fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether
the claimant has sufficient RFC to perform his past work; if
so, he is not disabled and the claim must be denied. §
416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving he
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets that burden, a prima
facie case of disability is established. Id. If that
happens or if the claimant has no past relevant work, the
Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the
claimant is not disabled because he can perform other
substantial gainful work available in the national economy.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(v); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the
sequential analysis. § 416.920(a)(4)(v);
Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5; Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257.
The ALJ’s Application of the Five-Step Process
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since December 11, 2008, the
application date. (AR 249.) At step two, he concluded that
Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease
with radiculopathy and chronic neck and shoulder pain of
undetermined cause. (Id.) At step three, he
determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or
equal a listing. (AR 250.)
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a
range of medium work (id.), which is defined as
“lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent
lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25
pounds.” § 416.967(c). Plaintiff could stand,
walk, or sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday and
occasionally stoop, bend, or work above shoulder level. (AR
250.) He was precluded from climbing ladders, working at
heights, and balancing, and he had no reliable grip strength
in his left, nondominant hand. (Id.)
based on the VE’s testimony, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work as a house
painter but could perform other work in the regional economy.
(AR 252-53.) Accordingly, he found him not disabled. (AR
alleges that the ALJ (1) erred in assessing the opinion of
Dr. Isaias Paja and (2) failed to articulate legally
sufficient reasons for rejecting Plaintiff’s subjective
symptom testimony. (J. Stip. at 4, 25.)
The ALJ’s Assessment of the Medical Evidence
argues that the ALJ “failed to articulate specific and
legitimate reasons for rejecting” Dr. Paja’s
opinions. (Id. at 9.) For the reasons ...