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Harlan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 19, 2017

RICHARD HARLAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER REMANDING THE ACTION PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G) ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFF RICHARD HARLAN AND AGAINST DEFENDANT NANCY BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Richard Harlan was found previously to be disabled by the Social Security Administration. However, he asserts the administrative law judge erred in determining the date he became disabled. Because the ALJ failed to call a medical expert to determine the onset date of Plaintiff's disability, the matter is REMANDED for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income pursuant to Titles II and XVI, alleging he became disabled in September 2007 due to left arm pain, hand/shoulder pain, back pain, and mental illness. (Doc. 9-3 at 14; Doc. 9-6 at 2, 13) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications at both the initial level and upon reconsideration. (See generally Doc. 9-4; Doc. 9-3 at 14)

         After requesting a hearing, Plaintiff testified before an ALJ on May 6, 2014. (Doc. 9-3 at 14, 35) The ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on September 12, 2014. (See Doc. 9-3 at 10-26) Specifically, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff “was not disabled prior to December 14, 2013, but became disabled on that date and… continued to be disabled through the date of [the] decision.” (Id. at 25) When the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the decision on October 23, 2015 (id. at 2-4), the ALJ's findings became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of fact, such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The ALJ's determination that the claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the proper legal standards were applied and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).

         Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as a whole must be considered, because “[t]he court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion.” Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).

         DISABILITY BENEFITS

         To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish he is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to have a disability only if:

his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work, but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The burden of proof is on a claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). If a claimant establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove the claimant is able to engage in other substantial gainful employment. Maounois v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984).

         ADMINISTRATIVE DETERMINATION

         To achieve uniform decisions, the Commissioner established a sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920(a)-(f). The process requires the ALJ to determine whether Plaintiff (1) engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged disability, (2) had medically determinable severe impairments (3) that met or equaled one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether Plaintiff (4) had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform to past relevant work or (5) the ability to perform other work ...


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