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Alba v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 4, 2017

JOSEPH F. ALBA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SHERI PYM United States Magistrate Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On December 10, 2015, plaintiff Joseph F. Alba filed a complaint against defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), [1] seeking a review of a denial of a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The parties have fully briefed the matters in dispute, and the court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

         Plaintiff presents two disputed issues for decision: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred at step five; and (2) whether the ALJ properly considered the opinion of a State Agency physician. Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint (“P. Mem.”) at 5-15; Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Answer (“D. Mem.”) at 2-11.

         Having carefully studied the parties' memoranda on the issues in dispute, the Administrative Record (“AR”), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ did not err at step five and properly considered the opinion of the State Agency physician. Consequently, the court affirms the decision of the Commissioner denying benefits.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, who was thirty-six years old on the alleged disability onset date, is a high school graduate. AR at 49, 153. Plaintiff has past relevant work as a truck driver. Id. at 44.

         On April 28, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB, alleging an onset date of April 9, 2007 due to diabetes, depression, anxiety/panic disorder, and injuries to the back, shoulders, elbows, and neck. Id. at 49. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration, after which he filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 75-84.

         On January 10, 2014, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 30-48. The ALJ also heard testimony from Gloria Lasoff, a vocational expert (“VE”). Id. at 44-47. On March 24, 2014, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim for benefits. Id. at 10-26.

         Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from the April 9, 2007 alleged disability onset date through December 31, 2010, the date last insured. Id. at 12.

         At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: acromioclavicular osteoarthritis; hypertension; diabetes mellitus; gout; gastroesophageal reflux disease; degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; obesity; anxiety; depression; post-traumatic stress disorder; adhesive capsulitis, right shoulder; and right shoulder rotator cuff syndrome. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff's impairments, whether individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). Id. at 13. The ALJ then assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), [2] and determined he had the RFC to perform a range of light work, with the limitations that plaintiff could: lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday for no more than 20 minutes at a time; sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday with brief position changes after approximately one to two hours; occasionally perform postural activities; have occasional non-intense interactions with the public; and perform unskilled work. Id. at 14-15. The ALJ found plaintiff precluded from: climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; working around unprotected heights, moving machinery, or other hazards; performing work requiring hypervigilance or intense concentration on a particular task; and performing overhead reaching or lifting bilaterally. Id.

         The ALJ found, at step four, that plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a truck driver. Id. at 24.

         At step five, the ALJ found there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including office helper, laundry worker, and production inspector. Id. at 25-26. Consequently, the ALJ concluded plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. Id. at 26.

         Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. Id. at 1-3. The ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This court is empowered to review decisions by the Commissioner to deny benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The findings and decision of the Social Security Administration must be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001) (as amended). But if the court determines that the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the findings and set aside the ...


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