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Roberson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 29, 2017

RACHEEDAD TREOLA ROBERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN E. SCOTT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Racheedad Treola Roberson (“Plaintiff”) appeals the final decision of the Social Security Commissioner denying her application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for SSI alleging disability beginning on November 1, 2010. Administrative Record (“AR”) 10. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on February 24, 2014. AR 25-60. A second hearing was held on November 17, 2014, before a different ALJ. AR 61-101. The second ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on December 8, 2014. AR 7-24.

         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 conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

         If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim must be denied. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets that burden, a prima facie case of disability is established. Id.

         If that happens or if the claimant has no past relevant work, the Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not disabled because he can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. Id.

         §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n. 5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.

         C. The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Evaluation Process.

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial activity since her alleged onset date and, in fact, had never worked. AR 13. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no severe physical impairments, but the following severe mental impairments: “bipolar disorder and polysubstance dependence, in remission.” AR 13. At step three, the ALJ determined that these impairments, or the combination thereof, did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the impairments in the Listing. AR 14.

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: “She is limited to occasional detailed or complex tasks. She can have frequent contact with coworkers, supervisors and the general public. She would have 5 to 10 percent reduction in maintaining concentration and attention spread out over a normal workday. She also requires a low stress environment.” AR 15.

         At step five, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could work as a photocopy machine operator, mail clerk/sorter, or laundry worker, and that a significant number of such jobs existed nationally. AR 19. The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 20.

         III. ...


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