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Walker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 23, 2017

RICKY BENARD WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN E. SCOTT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Ricky Benard Walker (“Plaintiff”) appeals the final decision of the Commissioner denying his application for Social Security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is confirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for benefits alleging disability beginning on November 30, 2011. Administrative Record (“AR”) 197-202. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on February 3, 2013. AR 43-73. The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on April 11, 2014. AR 26-42.

         Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied review on December 18, 2015. AR 1-7. On that date, the ALJ decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(h). This timely civil action followed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Substantial Evidence and Harmless Error.

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's findings and decision should be upheld if they are free from legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007).

         “A decision of the ALJ will not be reversed for errors that are harmless.” Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). Generally, an error is harmless if it either “occurred during a procedure or step the ALJ was not required to perform, ” or if it “was inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination.” Stout v. Comm'r of SSA, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006).

         B. The Five-Step Evaluation Process.

         A person is “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if he is 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 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). A claimant for disability benefits bears the burden of producing evidence to demonstrate that he was disabled within the relevant time period. Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n. 5 (9th Cir. 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 must be denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).

         If the claimant is not 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 not disabled is made and the claim must be denied. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).

         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 ...


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