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Lunsford v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

March 30, 2017

JULIE LYNN LUNSFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROZELLA A. OLIVER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Julie Lynn Lunsford (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Commissioner's[1]denial of her application for supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and the case is REMANDED to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings.

         II. PROCEEDINGS BELOW

         On May 16, 2012[2], Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). (AR 145.) In her application, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on February 8, 2012. (Id. at 10, 170.) Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on March 28, 2013, and upon reconsideration on September 10, 2013. (Id. at 65-81, 85.) Plaintiff then filed a written request for a hearing. The ALJ held a hearing on July 8, 2014, in San Bernardino, California, at which Plaintiff testified. (Id. 13, 31-56.) An impartial vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. (Id. at 53-55.) On October 22, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act, [3] since the date the application was filed. (Id. at 22.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 1-3.) Plaintiff filed this action on March 23, 2016. (Dkt. No. 1.)

         The ALJ followed a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 30, 2012, the application date. (AR 12.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the left knee; bipolar disorder; psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified; and posttraumatic stress disorder. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “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.” (Id. at 13.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except that she can lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she can stand and walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour day; she can sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour day; she cannot push or pull with her left leg, work on unprotected heights, walk on uneven ground, climb ladders, crawl, or balance; she can occasionally stoop, bend, and climb stairs and ramps; she can perform routine, noncomplex tasks in a nonpublic setting; and she cannot have sustained, intense interaction with coworkers or supervisors.

(AR at 15.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 20.) At step five, the ALJ found that there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id. at 21.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “has not been under a disability . . . since April 30, 2012, the date the application was filed.” (Id. at 22.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. A court must affirm an ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence, and if the proper legal standards were applied. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001). “‘Substantial 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.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). An ALJ can satisfy the substantial evidence requirement “by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

         “[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Secretary's conclusion.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotations omitted). “‘Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, ' the ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)); see also Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (“If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.”). The 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.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff raises four issues in her appeal: (1) whether the ALJ properly considered the criteria of Listing 12.04; (2) whether the ALJ properly considered the criteria of Listing 1.02A; (3) whether there is a Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) inconsistency in the ALJ's holding that the Plaintiff can perform the jobs such as packer and small products assembler; and (4) whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion. (Joint Stip. at 3.) The Court addresses Plaintiff's last issue first.

         a. The ALJ Erred in Considering Plaintiff's Treating ...


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