United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
WILLIE J. HARVEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
J. WISTRICH United States Magistrate Judge
filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of
defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying
plaintiff's application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) benefits. The parties have filed a Joint
Stipulation (“JS”) setting forth their
contentions with respect to each disputed issue.
parties are familiar with the procedural facts. [See
JS 2]. In a February 3, 2014 written hearing decision that
constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner, an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that
plaintiff had severe impairments consisting of plantar
keratomas, hammertoes, mood disorder, and a history of drug
and alcohol abuse, with cocaine use in remission since 2000
but ongoing alcohol use. [AR 19]. The ALJ determined that
plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work with frequent
postural activities, occasional kneeling and crouching, no
use of ladders, no walking on uneven terrain, no hazards,
occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors, and no
public contact. [AR 19-21].
on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
plaintiff's RFC precluded him from performing his past
relevant work but did not preclude him from performing jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy,
such as the jobs of dry janitor, hospital cleaner, and
hotel/motel cleaner. [AR 26-28]. The ALJ concluded that
plaintiff was not disabled from October 17, 2012, the date
his SSI application was filed, through the date of the
ALJ's decision. [AR 28].
Commissioner's denial of benefits should be disturbed
only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is
based on legal error. Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806
F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015); Thomas v. Barnhart,
278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). “Substantial
evidence” means “more than a mere scintilla, but
less than a preponderance.” Bayliss v.
Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005).
“It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)
(internal quotation marks omitted). The court is required to
review the record as a whole and to consider evidence
detracting from the decision as well as evidence supporting
the decision. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin, 466 F.3d
880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Verduzco v. Apfel, 188
F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999). “Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278
F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Morgan v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th
contends that the ALJ erred in finding that plaintiff did not
have severe paranoid schizophrenia with auditory
hallucinations and visual hallucinations, and that the mental
functional limitations assigned by the ALJ were not based on
substantial evidence in the record as a whole, including new
and material evidence submitted to the Appeals Council.
[See JS 4-5].
two of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determines
whether a claimant has any severe, medically determinable
physical or mental impairments that meet the durational
requirement. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.920(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). In assessing severity, the ALJ
must determine whether a claimant's medically
determinable impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to
do “basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1521(a), 416.921(a); Webb v.
Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686-687 (9th Cir. 2006). The ALJ
may find a medically determinable impairment or combination
of impairments “not severe only if the
evidence establishes a slight abnormality that has no more
than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to
work.” Webb, 433 F.3d at 686 (quoting
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1289-1290 (9th Cir.
1996)). The ALJ must consider a claimant's subjective
symptoms in determining severity, provided that the claimant
has a medically determinable impairment that could reasonably
be expected to produce the symptoms. Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 96-3p, 1996 WL 374181, at *2.
found that plaintiff had a severe mood disorder, but that
schizophrenia was “not established by the medical
records” and therefore did not qualify as a severe
impairment. [AR 19]. In assessing the nature and severity of
plaintiff's mental impairment, the ALJ said that she gave
no significant weight to the January 2014 opinion of
plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Eunjoo Justice, M.D.,
and that she gave “considerable weight” both to
the February 2013 opinion of the Commissioner's examining
psychologist, Rosa M. Colonna, Ph.D., and to the March 2013
opinion of the nonexamining state agency physician, Kim
Morris, Psy. D. [See AR 23-24, 26].
Justice, a Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health
(“County Mental Health”) psychiatrist, completed
an “Evaluation Form for Mental Disorders” giving
plaintiff a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia with auditory
hallucinations and visual hallucinations. [AR 326-329]. Dr.
Justice stated that plaintiff received treatment on a monthly
basis from August 2012 through December 2013. [AR 326;
see AR 254-287]. The ALJ noted that Dr. Justice
[plaintiff's] intellectual functioning was impaired due
to auditory and visual hallucinations. Similarly, his memory,
concentration, and [ability to perform] tasks were impaired.
His affective status was typically aggressive, and his mood
was generally angry. [Plaintiff] complained of social
difficulties. His delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized
thoughts typically prevented him from doing normal things
like bathing, eating, or running errands. He was socially
withdrawn and isolated, and refused to go out of his home
boundaries. He feared “aliens” and did not trust
anyone. Dr. Justice opined [the plaintiff] appeared unable to
adapt to work life situations. He had maladaptive behavior
and aggression when agitated. He lacked skills to socialize
with others and take direction from supervisors due to
paranoia and suspicion of others' intentions.
[AR 23; see AR 328]. Dr. Justice prescribed
plaintiff Latuda (lurasidone) and Celexa
(citaprolam). [AR 275, 282]. Dr. Justice also gave
plaintiff a Global Assessment of Function (“GAF”)
score of 46, which signifies serious symptoms, such as
suicidal ideation, severe obsessional rituals, frequent
shoplifting or any serious impairment in social,
occupational, or school functioning, such has having no
friends, being unable to keep a job and unable to work. [AR
329]. See American Psychiatric ...