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Boatwright v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 10, 2017

LUZ BOATWRIGHT Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          KENDALL J. NEWMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Luz Boatwright seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”).[1] In her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from August 2, 2011, her alleged disability onset date, through the final administrative decision. (ECF No. 16.) The Commissioner opposed plaintiff's motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 19.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed a reply brief. (ECF No. 20.)

         After carefully considering the record and the parties' briefing, the court DENIES plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on July 9, 1966, has a ninth grade education, can communicate in English, and previously worked as a hotel maid and dining room service worker. (Administrative Transcript (“AT”) 25-26, 41, 66-67, 175, 177.)[2] On August 23, 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that her disability began on August 2, 2011, and that she was disabled primarily due to a spinal injury, back problems, 5 bulging discs in the lower back, and depression. (AT 17, 148, 176.) After plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which took place on July 9, 2014, and at which plaintiff, represented by an attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (AT 17, 35-70.) The ALJ subsequently issued a decision dated October 7, 2014, determining that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from August 2, 2011, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AT 17-27.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on April 21, 2016. (AT 1-3.) Plaintiff then filed this action in federal district court on May 31, 2016, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 1.)

         II. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ improperly rejected the opinions of plaintiff's treating providers, Drs. Marasigan and Curiale; and (2) whether the ALJ failed to pose hypothetical questions based on those providers' assessed functional limitations.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). “The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Summary of the ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework.[3] As an initial matter, the ALJ determined that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act for purposes of DIB through December 31, 2016. (AT 19.) At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 2, 2011, her alleged disability onset date. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and symptomatic nerve root irritation on the left. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 20.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). [She] is able to sit eight hours and stand/walk six hours in an eight-hour workday. [She] would require a single point cane to ambulate long distances (over ½ mile) and [on] uneven terrain. [She] is unable to climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds, but is able to occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl and kneel. [She] is able to work frequently above the shoulders.

(AT 22.)

         At step four, the ALJ determined, based on the VE's testimony, that plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a hotel maid. (AT 25, 67-68.) In the alternative, the ALJ proceeded to step five, and found that, in light of plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. (AT 26-27.) More specifically, based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ identified the representative occupations of retail marker, cashier, and garment sorter, which were all light occupations with a specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) level of 2 (involving simple work). (AT 27.)

         Thus, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from August 2, 2011, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through ...


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