United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
filed this action on June 22, 2016, seeking review of the
Commissioner's denial of her applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental
Security Income ("SSI") payments. The parties filed
Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge
on July 22, 2016, and August 19, 2016. Pursuant to the
Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Submission
(alternatively "JS") on February 27, 2017, that
addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in
the case. The Court has taken the Joint Submission under
submission without oral argument.
was born on May 23, 1975. [Administrative Record
("AR") at 33, 127, 196, 198.] She has past relevant
work experience as a customer service clerk in combination
with account executive, and as a home attendant. [AR at
February 6, 2012, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for a period of disability and DIB, and on February 8, 2012,
she filed an application for SSI payments, alleging that she
has been unable to work since March 14, 2009. [AR at 118,
196, 198.] After her applications were denied initially and
upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a request for a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").
[AR at 118, 148.] A hearing was held on October 22, 2013, at
which time plaintiff appeared represented by an attorney, and
testified on her own behalf. [AR at 28-68.] A vocational
expert ("VE") also testified. [AR at 31-66, 51-53.]
On February 19, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision concluding
that plaintiff was not under a disability from March 14,
2009, the alleged onset date, through February 19, 2014, the
date of the decision. [AR at 118-29.] Plaintiff requested
review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. [AR
at 26.] When the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review on September 25, 2015 [AR at 12-16], the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See Sam v. Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810
(9th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (citations omitted).
This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to
review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The
decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application
of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622
F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Carmickle v. Comm'r. Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d
1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720
(9th Cir. 1998) (same). When determining whether substantial
evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision,
the Court examines the administrative record as a whole,
considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Mayes
v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001)
(citation omitted); see Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) ("[A]
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.") (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). "Where evidence is susceptible to more
than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision
should be upheld." Ryan, 528 F.3d at 1198
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted): see
Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir.
2006) ("If the evidence can support either affirming or
reversing the ALJ's conclusion, [the reviewing court] may
not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.")
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are 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 twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A);
Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir.
THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential
evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920; Lester
v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995), as
amended April 9, 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 is denied. Id. If the
claimant is not currently 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 her ability to do basic work activities; if not, a
finding of nondisability is made and the claim is denied.
Id. 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. 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" to perform her past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that she
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a prima
facie case of disability is established. Id.
The Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that
the claimant is not disabled, because she can perform other
substantial gainful work available in the national economy.
Id. The determination of this issue comprises the
fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester, 81 F.3d at
828 n.5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 14, 2009, the
alleged onset date. [AR at 120.] At step two, the ALJ
concluded that plaintiff has the severe impairments of
migraines; disorder of the cervical spine; and depression.
[Id.] At step three, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals any of the
impairments in the Listing. [AR at 121.] The ALJ further
found that plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity ("RFC") to perform less than the full range of
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b),
416.967(b),  as follows:
[Plaintiff] would be restricted to the following: lifting and
carrying no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; pushing and pulling within these weight limits on
an occasional basis; standing and walking six hours out of an
eight-hour workday, with no prolonged walking greater than 30
minutes at a time; sitting six hours out of an eight-hour
workday with the ability to stand and stretch, for one minute
at the end of each hour, not to exceed 10 percent of the day;
no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no work hazards such as
working at unprotected heights, working on or with dangerous
or fast moving machinery, or driving commercial vehicles;
unskilled work; simple, routine, repetitive tasks; and
occasional contact with the public, coworkers and
[AR at 123.] At step four, based on plaintiff's RFC and
the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is
unable to perform any of her past relevant work in the
combination position of customer service clerk and account
executive, and as a home attendant. [AR at 59-60, 127.] At
step five, based on plaintiff's RFC, vocational factors,
and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that there are jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy that
plaintiff can perform, including work as a "mail
clerk" (Dictionary of Occupational Titles
("DOT") No. 209.687-026), "photo copy machine
operator" (DOT No. 207.685-014), and "folder"
(DOT No. 369.687-014). [ARat60, 128.] Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that ...