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Romersheuser v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 19, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff filed a Complaint on July 9, 2016, seeking review of the denial of her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and either ordering the payment of benefits or remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings. (Dkt. No. 1.) On August 26, 2016, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 14-16.) On January 9, 2017, the Court ordered the parties to each file motions for summary judgment setting forth, inter alia, a statement of the issues presented and the evidence and legal authorities regarding each claim. (Dkt. No. 24.) On February 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed her motion for summary judgment (“Plaintiff's Motion”) (Dkt. No. 26), and on March 10, 2017, Defendant filed her motion for summary judgment (“Defendant's Motion”) (Dkt. No. 27). Plaintiff filed additional medical information on March 28, 2017 (“Plaintiff's Supplement”). (Dkt. No. 28.) Plaintiff requests the immediate award of benefits or, in the alternative, a remand to the Commissioner for reconsideration of the evidence. (Complaint at 3.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or, in the alternative, remanded for further consideration. (See Defendant's Motion at 9.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.


         On November 8, 2011, Plaintiff, who was born on February 10, 1968, [2] filed an application for DIB. (See Administrative Record (“AR”) 181.) Plaintiff alleged disability commencing January 1, 2010, due to “fibromyalgia/myalgia/pre-cancer of cervix, GERD, hypothyroidism/chronic fatigue syndrome, breast cancer (DX 10/2006), lumbar issues, eye sensitivity to light, asthma, vertigo/arthritis, major depression, anxiety/bipolar disorder/PTSD.” (AR 225.) Plaintiff previously worked as a home attendant (DOT 354.377-014), survey worker (DOT 205.367-054), and a receptionist (DOT 237-367-038). (See id. 21, 57, 227.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially. (Id. 75). On May 21, 2012, Plaintiff requested a hearing. (Id. 85.) On April 22, 2014 and September 25, 2014, Administrative Law Judge John Tobin (“ALJ”) held a hearing. (Id. 27, 36.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and Gregory Jones, the vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the hearing. (Id. 29-64.) On February 25, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (Id. 13-22.) On May 10, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. 1-5.)


         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date of January 1, 2010 through her date last insured. (AR 15.) The ALJ further found that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “fibromyalgia, mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, benign positional vertigo, obesity, major depressive disorder in remission, and pre-diabetes.” (Id.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526). (Id. at 17.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “a wide range of light work . . . and could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.” (Id.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a survey worker (DOT 205.367-054) and a receptionist (DOT 237-367-038). (AR 21.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from the alleged onset through the date last insured. (Id. 21.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘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.'” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). “Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for the Commissioner's, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination, ' or if despite the legal error, ‘the agency's path may reasonably be discerned.'” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted).


         I. Issues In Dispute.

         Plaintiff does not identify any errors with the ALJ's decision. (See generally Plaintiff's Motion.) Instead, she states that “all of [her] health problems were not mentioned” at the hearing before the ALJ (Plaintiff's Motion at 1), [3] and she submits eight “new” medical records for the Court's consideration (see Plaintiff's Motion at 4-13; Plaintiff's Supplement at 4). Accordingly, very liberally construed, the Court understands Plaintiff's Motion as presenting two arguments for an order reversing and remanding the ALJ's decision: (1) she was denied a meaningful opportunity be heard in connection with her claim, cf. Dexter v. Colvin, 731 F.3d 977, 980 (9th Cir. 2013); and (2) she is entitled to a sentence six remand based on new evidence, cf. Mayes v. ...

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