United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
filed this action on April 6, 2016, seeking review of the
Commissioner's denial of her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The parties filed
Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge
on April 27, 2016, and April 28, 2016. Pursuant to the
Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Submission
(alternatively “JS”) on February 13, 2017, that
addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in
the case. The Court has taken the Joint Submission under
submission without oral argument.
was born on April 12, 1960. [Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 157, 805.] She has past relevant work
experience as an administrative assistant. [AR at 805,
March 31, 2010, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for a period of disability and DIB, alleging that she has
been unable to work since October 29, 2009. [AR at 11,
157-58, 178.] Plaintiff's application and request for
reconsideration were denied, and after a hearing, an
unfavorable decision was issued on February 16, 2012. [AR at
11-18.] Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court in case
number ED CV 13-1626-PLA, and on August 21, 2014, the Court
remanded the matter for further proceedings. [AR at 904-21.]
In its remand order, the Court ordered that on remand the ALJ
“consider plaintiff's migraine headache condition
to be a ‘severe' condition, ” and reevaluate
plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. [AR at 835;
see also AR at 797.] On September 30, 2015, a
hearing was held on remand before a different ALJ, at which
plaintiff appeared represented by an attorney and testified
on her own behalf. [AR at 837-69.] A vocational expert
(“VE”) and two medical experts (“ME”)
also testified. [AR at 843-50, 851-61.] On December 11, 2015,
the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not
under a disability from October 29, 2009, the alleged onset
date, through September 30, 2013, the date last insured. [AR
at 806.] When the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review on July 8, 2013 [AR at 1-3], the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.
See Sam v. Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008)
(per curiam) (citations omitted). This action
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to
review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The
decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application
of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622
F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
evidence means 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.”
Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d
1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720
(9th Cir. 1998) (same). When determining whether substantial
evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision,
the Court examines the administrative record as a whole,
considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Mayes
v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001)
(citation omitted); see Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (“[A]
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.”) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). “Where evidence is susceptible to more
than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision
should be upheld.” Ryan, 528 F.3d at 1198
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see
Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir.
2006) (“If the evidence can support either affirming or
reversing the ALJ's conclusion, [the reviewing court] may
not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.”)
EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or which has
lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A);
Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir.
THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential
evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir.
1995), as amended April 9, 1996. In the first step,
the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the
claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. If the claimant is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limiting her ability to do basic work
activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and
the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of
impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R.
part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is
conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id.
If the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the
Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the claimant has sufficient “residual
functional capacity” to perform her past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that she
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a prima
facie case of disability is established. Id.
The Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that
the claimant is not disabled, because she can perform other
substantial gainful work available in the national economy.
Id. The determination of this issue comprises the
fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester, 81 F.3d at
828 n.5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF ...