United States District Court, S.D. California
KRISTIN J. QUINTANA, on behalf of herself, Plaintiff,
APPEALS COUNCIL OFFICE OF DISABILITY ADJUDICATION, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, DENYING DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT, REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS [DOC. NOS. 21,
Marilyn L. Huff United States District Judge
29, 2015, Kristin Quintana (“Plaintiff”),
proceeding pro se, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C
§ 405(g) requesting judicial review of the Appeals
Council Office of Disability Adjudication's
(“Defendant”) final decision denying her
disability benefits. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant filed the
administrative record on July 11, 2016, (Doc. No. 16), and
filed the operative amended answer on July 13, 2016, (Doc.
No. 18). On August 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for
summary judgment, requesting the Court reverse
Defendant's final decision and order the payment of
benefits, or alternatively, remand for further proceedings.
(Doc. No. 21.) On September 23, 2016, Defendant filed a
cross-motion for summary judgment and opposition to
Plaintiff's motion, requesting the Court affirm the
Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. Nos. 23, 24.) On
November 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition
to the cross-motion. (Doc. No. 34.) On November 15, 2016,
Defendant filed a reply. (Doc. No. 36.) On November 17, 2016,
Plaintiff filed a request to amend her opposition. (Doc. No.
38.) The Court granted the motion, (Doc. No. 39), and
Plaintiff filed her amended brief on January 13, 2017, (Doc.
No. 49). Defendant filed a reply on January 25, 2017. (Doc.
No. 51.) For the reasons below, the Court grants
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, denies
Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment, and
remands to the ALJ for further proceedings.
2, 2011, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits,
as well as supplemental security income benefits, claiming
she became disabled on June 15, 2009. (AR177-91) (but
see AR185) (SSI application stating onset date of June
1, 2009). The Social Security Administration initially denied
Plaintiff's application on August 29, 2011, and again
upon reconsideration on May 31, 2012. (AR92-99.) Plaintiff
then requested a hearing before an ALJ. (AR100-06.)
30, 2013, an ALJ held a video hearing where Plaintiff
appeared with counsel and testified. (AR60-77.) At the
hearing, the ALJ also heard telephonic testimony from a
vocational expert. (AR73-76.) In a decision dated August 26,
2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that equaled the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404.
(AR39-47.) In light of the lack of severity of her
impairments, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full
range of sedentary work. (AR42.) Although Plaintiff could not
perform past relevant work, (AR46), the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to Medical-Vocational
Rule 201.28, (AR46-47).
October 11, 2013, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's
decision by the Appeals Council. (AR34.) Upon requesting
review by the Appeals Council, Plaintiff also submitted
additional medical records by Dr. Kotha, Dr. McSweeney, and
Nurse Practitioner Lapadat. (AR5, 998-1074.) The Appeals
Council included this additional evidence in the record.
(AR5.) On April 1, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision final. (AR1-5.)
The Legal Standard for Determining Disability
claimant is disabled under Title II of the Social Security
Act if [s]he is unable ‘to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result
in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.'” Parra v.
Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). “To determine whether a
claimant meets this definition, the ALJ conducts a five-step
sequential evaluation.” Id.; see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The Ninth Circuit has
summarized this process as follows:
The burden of proof is on the claimant as to steps one to
four. As to step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner.
If a claimant is found to be “disabled” or
“not disabled” at any step in the sequence, there
is no need to consider subsequent steps. The five steps are:
Step 1. Is the claimant presently working in a substantially
gainful activity? If so, then the claimant is “not
disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act
and is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the
claimant is not working in a substantially gainful activity,
then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step one
and the evaluation proceeds to step two.
Step 2. Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, then
the claimant is “not disabled” and is not
entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the
claimant's impairment is severe, then the claimant's
case cannot be resolved at step two and the evaluation
proceeds to step three.
Step 3. Does the impairment “meet or equal” one
of a list of specific impairments described in the
regulations? If so, the claimant is “disabled”
and therefore entitled to disability insurance benefits. If
the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of
the impairments listed in the regulations, then the
claimant's case cannot be resolved at step three and the
evaluation proceeds to step four.
Step 4. Is the claimant able to do any work that he or she
has done in the past? If so, then the claimant is “not
disabled” and is not entitled to disability insurance
benefits. If the claimant cannot do any work he or she did in
the past, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at
step four and the evaluation proceeds to the fifth and final
Step 5. Is the claimant able to do any other work? If not,
then the claimant is “disabled” and therefore
entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the claimant is
able to do other work, then the Commissioner must establish
that there are a significant number of jobs in the national
economy that claimant can do. There are two ways for the
Commissioner to meet the burden of showing that there is
other work in “significant numbers” in the
national economy that claimant can do: (1) by the testimony
of a vocational expert, or (2) by reference to the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines. If the Commissioner meets this
burden, the claimant is “not disabled” and
therefore not ...