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Lara v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 28, 2017

BRUNILDA LARA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This social security action was submitted to the court without oral argument for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.[1]Plaintiff's motion argues that the Administrative Law Judge's step two finding, treatment of the medical opinion evidence, treatment of plaintiff's subjective testimony, and treatment of Social Security Ruling 00-4p constituted error. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is granted in part, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In November of 2011, plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act alleging disability beginning on August 2, 2010.[2](Transcript (“Tr.”) at 20, 193-206.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, (id. at 130-33), and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 136-40.)

         Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing which was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 15, 2013. (Id. at 46-100.) Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and testified at the administrative hearing. (Id. at 46-47.) In a decision issued on February 28, 2014, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 30.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 28, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity, diabetes, degenerative joint disease, and adjustment disorder with depression and anxiety (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) with the following exceptions: The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can also occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; and reach, handle, finger, or feel with her left upper extremity. The claimant requires the option to sit or stand, changing positions at her workstation two to three times per hour. She can perform simple, repetitive tasks. Further, she can occasionally interact with the public, and frequently interact with supervisors and co-workers.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on October 6, 1967 and was 42 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to a younger individual age 45-49 (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 28, 2010, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(Id. at 22-30.)

         On June 19, 2015, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's February 28, 2014 decision. (Id. at 4-6.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on January 6, 2016. (ECF No. 1.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “The district court reviews the Commissioner's final decision for substantial evidence, and the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997).

         “[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). If, however, “the record considered as a whole can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the Commissioner's decision, we must affirm.” McCartey v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2002).

         A five-step evaluation process is used to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). The five-step process has been summarized as follows:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe” impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding of not disabled is appropriate.
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 automatically determined disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional capacity to perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.

Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n. 5 (1987). The Commissioner bears the burden if the sequential evaluation process proceeds to step ...


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