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Hopkins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

March 6, 2017

VAL HOPKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          ANDREW J. WISTRICH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of the defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying plaintiff's application for social security disability insurance and supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation (“JS”) setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue.

         Administrative Proceedings

         The procedural facts are summarized in the Joint Stipulation. [See JS 2-4]. In a January 23, 2014 written hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a restricted range of light work. The ALJ determined that plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work, but that she could perform alternative jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy. [JS 4; Administrative Record (“AR”) 43]. Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled at any time from August 1, 2010, her alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. [AR 44].

         Standard of Review

         The 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) (quoting Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)). “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. Social 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 Cir. 1999)).

         Discussion

         Medical opinion evidence

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in evaluating the opinion of Robert Campbell Thompson, M.D., who testified as a medical expert during the November 6, 2013 hearing.

         Dr. Thompson testified that he had reviewed the medical records submitted by the parties but had not examined or treated plaintiff. [AR 60]. Based on his evaluation of plaintiff's medical records, he described plaintiff's functional limitations as follows:

Section 1 is lifting and carrying, I would say, frequently up to 10 pounds, occasionally 11 to 20 and not over 20 for both lifting and carrying. Section 2, sitting, standing and walking at one time, one hour each in an eight-hour workday, six hours total mixed between them. In other words, six altogether. There is no evidence that a cane is required for basic ambulation.

[AR 62].

         The parties disagree about how Dr. Thompson's testimony should be interpreted. Plaintiff interprets Dr. Thompson's testimony to mean that plaintiff can work six hours in a workday at a maximum, alternating between sitting, standing and walking. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ permissibly interpreted Dr. Thompson's testimony to mean that plaintiff was capable of performing “light work . . . sitting, standing and/or walking six hours out of an eight hour workday with the ability to stand and stretch or sit and stretch every hour estimated to take one to three minutes per hour.” [AR 36].

         The ALJ's interpretation is supported by the record. During the hearing, plaintiff's ...


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