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Edmonds v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 24, 2017

JEFFREY EDMONDS Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          KENDALL J. NEWMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jeffrey Edmonds seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act (“Act”).[1] In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from June 15, 2008, his alleged disability onset date, through the date of the final administrative decision. (ECF No. 12.) The Commissioner opposed plaintiff's motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 15.) No optional reply brief was filed.

         For the reasons that follow, the court DENIES plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and AFFIRMS the final decision of the Commissioner.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on March 17, 1962, has a ninth grade education, can communicate in English, and previously worked as a landscape laborer, taxi driver, and fast food cook. (Administrative Transcript (“AT”) 19, 30, 191, 193-94.)[2] On June 27, 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that his disability began on June 15, 2008, and that he was disabled due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (“COPD”), asthma, emphysema, lower back pain, carpal tunnel, gout, arthritis, anxiety, comprehension problems, and depression. (AT 10, 75-76, 175, 177, 192.) After plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which took place on June 25, 2014, and at which plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (AT 10, 24-52.) The ALJ subsequently issued a decision dated October 15, 2014, determining that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from June 15, 2008, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AT 10-19.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on January 27, 2016. (AT 1-3.) Plaintiff then filed this action in federal district court on March 30, 2016, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 1.)

         II. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, plaintiff argues that the ALJ erroneously determined at step two of the sequential disability evaluation process that plaintiff did not have a severe mental impairment.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). “The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Summary of the ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB and SSI pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework.[3] As an initial matter, the ALJ determined that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act for purposes of DIB through December 31, 2009. (AT 12.) At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 15, 2008, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, and obesity. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 16.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except that the claimant can lift and/or carry, push and/or pull 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk (with normal breaks) for a total of eight hours in an eight-hour workday, sit (with normal breaks) for a total of eight hours in an ...

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