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Green v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 20, 2017

TASHAWNA M. GREEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER

          ALEXANDER F. MacKINNON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Tashawna M. Green filed her application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act on August 15, 2012 alleging disability beginning July 27, 2002. After denial on initial review and on reconsideration, a hearing took place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on November 5, 2013 and March 24, 2014, at which Plaintiff testified on her own behalf. In a decision dated May 1, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act since August 15, 2012, the date the application was filed. The Appeals Council declined to set aside the ALJ's unfavorable decision in a notice dated October 28, 2015. Plaintiff filed a Complaint herein on December 21, 2015, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for benefits.

         In accordance with the Court's Order Regarding Further Proceedings, Plaintiff filed a memorandum in support of the complaint on December 16, 2016 (“Pl. Mem.”); the Commissioner filed a memorandum in support of her answer on January 13, 2017 (“Def. Mem.”); Plaintiff not file a reply. This matter now is ready for decision.[1]

         II. DISPUTED ISSUE

         As reflected in the parties' memoranda, the sole disputed issue in this case is whether the ALJ articulated specific and legitimate reasons in rejecting plaintiff's credible testimony.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” but less than a preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. This Court must review the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035. Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

         IV. FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

         The 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 his 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 his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). 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 he 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.

         V. THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 15, 2012, her application date. (AR 11.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairment of diabetes mellitus. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 12.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has had the following residual functional capacity (RFC): able to lift 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally; able to stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; able to sit six hours in an eight-hour workday; and precluded from walking on uneven terrain and/or working at unprotected heights. (AR 13.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has been capable of performing her past relevant work as a certified nurse's assistant. (AR 14.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act since August 15, 2012. (AR 15.)

         VI. DISCUSSION

         An ALJ's assessment of pain severity and claimant credibility is entitled to “great weight.” Weetman v. Sullivan, 877 F.2d 20, 22 (9th Cir. 1989). Where the claimant has produced objective medical evidence of an impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce some degree of pain and/or other symptoms, and the record is devoid of any affirmative evidence of malingering, the ALJ may reject the claimant's testimony regarding the severity of the claimant's pain and/or other symptoms only if the ALJ makes specific findings stating clear and convincing reasons for doing so. See Cotton v. Bowen, 799 F.2d 1403, 1407 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1281 (9th Cir. 1996). Here, since the Commissioner has not argued that there was evidence of malingering and that a lesser standard consequently should apply, the Court will apply the “clear and convincing” standard to the ALJ's ...


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