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Cox v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 28, 2017

CHRISTINA LABETE COX, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Honorable Jacqueline Chooljian UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. SUMMARY

         On October 8, 2015, Christina Labete Cox (“plaintiff”) filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of plaintiff's application for benefits. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, respectively (“Plaintiff's Motion”) and (“Defendant's Motion”). The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; L.R. 7-15; October 13, 2015 Case Management Order ¶ 5.

         Based on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The findings of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material error.

         II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         On March 2, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits alleging disability beginning on February 1, 2011, due to fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, a lower lumber problem, depression, and chest pain. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 23, 177, 206). On June 21, 2013, the ALJ held an initial administrative hearing (“Initial Hearing”) during which he heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel), and a vocational expert. (AR 55-87). At a supplemental hearing on December 10, 2013 (“Supplemental Hearing”), the ALJ examined the medical record, summarized the testimony from the Initial Hearing, and heard additional testimony from plaintiff (who was again represented by counsel), a medical expert, and a different vocational expert (“vocational expert” or “VE”). (AR 38-54).

         On February 19, 2014, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 23-33). Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease at multiple levels of the thoracic spine, disc protrusions at ¶ 3-5 with possible nerve root involvement at ¶ 4 and facet hypertrophy at ¶ 4-5, disc protrusions at ¶ 4-6 with associated neural foramina encroachment, fibromyalgia, lower extremity polyneuropathy, and obesity (AR 26); (2) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 26-27); (3) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently, stand and walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday, sit for six hours per workday, do occasional postural activity but no climbing of ropes, ladders, or scaffolds, and plaintiff had no other limitations except to avoid vibrations, temperature extremes, and workplace hazards (AR 27); (4) plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work (AR 31); (5) there is work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, specifically in the representative occupations of film touch-up inspector, table worker, and touch-up screener (collectively “representative occupations”); and (6) plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of subjective symptoms were not entitled to full weight (AR 29).

         On August 14, 2015, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's application for review. (AR 1-6).

         III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Sequential Evaluation Process

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that the claimant 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work the claimant previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).

         In assessing whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required to use the following five-step sequential evaluation process:

(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If ...

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