United States District Court, E.D. California
ANITA M. REYNA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,  Defendant.
ALLISON CLAIRE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§
401-34. For the reasons that follow,
plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be granted,
and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment will be
denied. This matter will be remanded to the Commissioner for
applied for DIB on December 14, 2011. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 20 (decision). The disability onset date
was alleged to be February 26, 2010. Id. The
application was disapproved initially and on reconsideration.
Id. On February 11, 2014, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) G. Ross Wheatley presided over the
hearing on plaintiff's challenge to the disapprovals. AR
20-31 (transcript). Plaintiff testified at the hearing and
was represented by her counsel, Robert Smolich, Esq. Stephen
B. Schmidt, a Vocational Expert (“VE”), also
testified at the hearing.
March 14, 2014, the ALJ found plaintiff “not
disabled” under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of Title II
of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d). AR 31. On
September 17, 2015, after receiving a brief from
plaintiff's counsel, and medical records from Palo Alto
Medical Foundation as additional exhibits, the Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review, leaving
the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. AR 1-5 (decision, exhibit
filed this action on November 2, 2015. ECF No. 1;
see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties consented
to the jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. ECF Nos. 7, 10.
The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, based
upon the Administrative Record filed by the Commissioner,
have been fully briefed. ECF Nos. 20 (plaintiff's summary
judgment motion), 23 (Commissioner's summary judgment
was born on May 24, 1962, and accordingly was, at age 47, a
younger person under the regulations, when she filed her
application. AR 87. Plaintiff has a high school
education, some college, and can communicate in English. AR
44. Plaintiff worked as a customer service representative for
an advertising company between 1988 and 2010. AR 188.
federal court's review of Social Security determinations
is quite limited.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806
F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015). The Commissioner's
decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld
“unless it contains legal error or is not supported by
substantial evidence.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759
F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). “‘The findings of
the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive . . ..'” Andrews
v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting
42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than
a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1009.
“While inferences from the record can constitute
substantial evidence, only those reasonably drawn from the
record will suffice.” Widmark v. Barnhart, 454
F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted).
court reviews the record as a whole, “weighing both the
evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from
the Commissioner's conclusion.” Rounds v.
Commissioner Social Security Admin., 807 F.3d 996, 1002
(9th Cir. 2015); Attmore v. Colvin, 827 F.3d 872,
875 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[w]e cannot affirm …
“simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
the ALJ's responsibility “to determine credibility,
resolve conflicts in the testimony, and resolve ambiguities
in the record.” Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492
(internal quotation marks omitted). “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). Thus, in
reviewing the Commissioner's decision, this court does
not substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner.
See Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492 (“[f]or
highly fact-intensive individualized determinations like a
claimant's entitlement to disability benefits, Congress
places a premium upon agency expertise, and, for the sake of
uniformity, it is usually better to minimize the opportunity
for reviewing courts to substitute their discretion for that
of the agency”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
court may review “only the reasons provided by the ALJ
in the disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on
a ground upon which he did not rely.”
Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1010. Finally, the court will
not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on
“harmless error, ” meaning that the error
“is inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination ….” Brown-Hunter, 806
F.3d at 492 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Insurance Benefits are available for every eligible
individual who is “disabled.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 402(d)(1)(B)(ii). Plaintiff is
“disabled” if she 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 ….'” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 140 (1987) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §§
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine whether an applicant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4); Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20,
24-25 (2003) (setting forth the “five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine disability” under Title
II and Title XVI). The following summarizes the sequential
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not,
proceed to step two.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b).
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe”
impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, the
claimant is not disabled.
Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c).
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination
of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is
disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d).
Step four: Does the claimant's residual functional
capacity make him capable of performing his past work? If so,
the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (e), (f).
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional
capacity perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not