United States District Court, E.D. California
CHARLES C. LUTTRELL, 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 his
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, and for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C.
reasons that follow, the court will deny plaintiff's
motion for summary judgment, and grant the Commissioner's
cross-motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff argues that his
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) prevents him
from performing jobs the ALJ identified as alternate work at
Step 5, because they require overhead reaching. The
argument fails, because the RFC - which he does not challenge
- does not preclude such work; rather, it precludes work that
requires overhead lifting.
applied for disability insurance benefits on November 19,
2010, and for supplemental security income on July 12, 2011.
Administrative Record (“AR”) 9
(decision).The disability onset date for both
applications was alleged to be July 30, 2010. Id.
The applications were disapproved initially and on
reconsideration. Id. On August 19, 2013,
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Bradlee S.
Welton presided over a hearing on plaintiff's challenge
to the disapprovals. AR 26-76 (transcript). Plaintiff was
present and testified at the hearing. Id. Plaintiff
was represented by counsel at the hearing. Id.
“Mr. Sartorius, ” Vocational Expert
(“VE”), testified at the hearing. Id.
January 17, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
finding plaintiff “not disabled” under Sections
216(i) and 223(d) of Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i), 423(d), and Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of
Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). AR
9-20 (decision), 21-25 (exhibit list). On June 11, 2015, 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 1-3.
filed this action on August 21, 2015. ECF No. 1; see
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383c(3). The parties
consented to the jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. ECF
Nos. 7, 8. The parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, based upon the Administrative Record filed by the
Commissioner, have been fully briefed. ECF Nos. 15
(plaintiff's summary judgment motion), 16
(Commissioner's summary judgment motion).
was born on July 9, 1960, and accordingly was 50 years old on
the alleged disability onset date, making plaintiff a person
“closely approaching advanced age” under the
regulations. AR 18; see 20 C.F.R §§
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 and Supplemental Security Income are
available for every eligible individual who is
“disabled.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(E)
(DIB), 1381a (SSI). Plaintiff is “disabled” if he
is “‘unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment . . ..'” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987) (quoting identically worded provisions
of 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A)).
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) and
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) and
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