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Haro v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 24, 2017

RAUL HARO, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security[1] Defendant.




         Plaintiff Raul Martinez Haro (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on March 23, 2016, seeking review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (Dkt. No. 1). On April 5 and 19, 2016, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 12.) On August 4, 2016, Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint (Dkt. No. 16) and a Certified Administrative Record (“A.R.”) (Dkt. No. 17). On November 3, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”). (Dkt. No. 19.) Plaintiff asks that the ALJ's decision be reversed for immediate payment of benefits or, alternatively remanded for further proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 10.) Defendant asks that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. (Joint Stip. at 16.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.


         Plaintiff filed applications for both SSI and DIB on June 7, 2012, [2] alleging disability beginning on April 28, 2011. (A.R.170-73 (DIB); 174-84 (SSI).) Plaintiff was 48 years old on the alleged disability onset date and, thus, defined as “an individual closely approaching advanced age” under Social Security agency guidelines.[3] (A.R. 23; see 20 CFR §§ 404.1563, 416.963.) Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on November 15, 2012 (A.R. 58-66) and on reconsideration on June 26, 2013 (A.R. 69-82). Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on October 11, 2013. (A.R.116-17.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter, before Administrative Law Judge Paul Coulter (the “ALJ”) on October 3, 2014. (A.R. 31-48.) Sandra Fioretti, an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), also testified at the hearing. (A.R. 44-47.) On November 13, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim, concluding that Plaintiff had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from April 28, 2011 through the date of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 24.) Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Social Security Appeals Council (A.R. 7), which denied review on March 11, 2016 (A.R. 1-6). Plaintiff then timely commenced this civil action.


         Applying the five step sequential evaluation process outlined in 20 C.F.R § 416.920(a), at step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 28, 2011, the alleged onset date. (A.R. 16.)

         At step two, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: “sleep apnea; diabetes mellitus; obesity; hypertension; hyperlipidemia; bilateral shoulder impairment, causing pain; mild degenerative disc disease, lumbar spine; mild degenerative disc disease, cervical spine; bilateral knee impairment, causing pain; insomnia; mood disorder; cognitive disorder; and anxiety disorder.” (A.R. 16.)

         In step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (A.R. 17.) The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of medium work.

Specifically, [Plaintiff] can lift, carry, push, or pull 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; stand/walk for about six hours out of an eight-hour workday; sit for about six hours out of an eight-hour workday; and frequently reach overhead with the bilateral upper extremities. [Plaintiff] is precluded from even moderate exposure to hazards, such as machinery and heights. Additionally, [Plaintiff] is limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple job instructions, but would be unable to perform work that would require directing others, abstract thought, or planning. [Plaintiff] can maintain attention and concentration to perform simple routine, and repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements; and have occasional interaction with the public.

         (A.R. 18.)

         Based on the record evidence and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has past relevant work as an industrial truck operator and a construction worker. (A.R. 23.) After comparing the RFC to the physical and mental demands of Plaintiff's past relevant work, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined, after considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, that there “are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform.” (A.R. 23.) However, the ALJ also found that Plaintiff's ability to perform the full range of medium work is impeded by his limitations. Therefore, based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform the requirements of hand packager, DOT[4] 920.587-018 a medium, unskilled occupation; laborer, grinding and polishing, DOT 705.687-014, a medium, unskilled occupation; and machine feeder, DOT 699.686-010, also a medium, unskilled occupation. (A.R. 24.)

         At step five, relying on the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded, that Plaintiff is able to do other work considering his RFC, age, education and work experience, and as a result, Plaintiff has not been under a disability since April 28, 2011. (A.R. 21.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). “Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for the Commissioner's, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination, ' or if despite the legal error, ‘the agency's path may reasonably be discerned.'” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted).


         Plaintiff seeks review of the ALJ's adverse decision based on the following alleged errors:

(1) Whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion;
(2) Whether the ALJ properly considered the consultative examiner's findings; and
(3) Whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's testimony and made proper ...

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