United States District Court, C.D. California
STACY L. FIELDS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING
ROSENBLUTH U.S. Magistrate Judge
was born in 1968. (Administrative Record (“AR”)
36.) She completed 12th grade and two semesters of college.
(Id.) She worked as a financial-services
representative and a peer facilitator. (AR 37-38.)
August 9, 2012, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that she
had been unable to work since March 2, 2009,  because of
bipolar disorder, “[r]espitory [sic]/[o]xygen
complication, ” arthritis, depression, anxiety, spinal
stenosis, lower-back and pelvic-bone pain, asthma, and
persistent and uncontrollable bladder leakage. (AR 78-79.)
After her application was denied initially and on
reconsideration, she requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge. (AR 113, 120, 126.) A hearing was
held on July 11, 2014, at which Plaintiff, who was
represented by counsel, testified, as did a vocational
expert. (See AR 29-77.) In a written decision issued
August 25, 2014, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR
6-24.) On September 10, 2014, Plaintiff sought Appeals
Council review (AR 5), which was denied on December 18, 2015
(AR 1-3). This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's
findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of
legal error and supported by substantial evidence based on
the record as a whole. See id.; Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v.
Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial
evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more
than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.
Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins
v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)).
To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding,
the reviewing court “must review the administrative
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's
conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715,
720 (9th Cir. 1996). “If the evidence can reasonably
support either affirming or reversing, ” the reviewing
court “may not substitute its judgment” for the
Commissioner's. Id. at 720-21.
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or has lasted,
or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least
12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
follows a five-step evaluation process to assess whether a
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4);
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir.
1995) (as amended Apr. 9, 1996). In the first step, the
Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant
is not disabled and the claim must be denied. §
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether
the claimant has a “severe” impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting her ability
to do basic work activities; if not, the claimant is not
disabled and the claim must be denied. §
claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination
of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if
so, disability is conclusively presumed. §
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth
step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the
claimant has sufficient RFC to perform her past work; if so,
she is not disabled and the claim must be denied. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving
she is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin,
966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets that burden, a prima
facie case of disability is established. Id. If that
happens or if the claimant has no past relevant work, the
Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the
claimant is not disabled because she can perform other
substantial gainful work available in the national economy.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the
sequential analysis. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v);
Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5; Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257.
The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Process
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 2, 2009, the alleged
onset date. (AR 11.) At step two, he concluded that Plaintiff
had severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the
lumbar spine, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
at ¶ 5-S1, bilateral patellofemoral syndrome, thoracic
myofascial strain, asthma, obesity, possible fibromyalgia,
history of gastric bypass surgery with chronic anemia, and
bipolar disorder. (AR 12.) At step three, he determined that
her impairments did not meet or equal a listing.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform
light work except that she could not climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; could no more than frequently kneel, crouch,
crawl, balance, or be exposed to extreme heat or wetness;
could no more than occasionally stoop, climb ramps and
stairs, be exposed to workplace hazards and pulmonary
irritants, or interact with the public; was limited to no
more than occasional changes in her workplace setting; and
was precluded from performing complex work activity. (AR
13-14.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff was “likely to be
absent from the workplace about one day a month.” (AR
on the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
could not perform her past relevant work. (AR 22-23.) At step
five, he relied on the VE's testimony to find that given
Plaintiff's RFC for light work “impeded by
additional limitations, ” she could perform three
“representative” light, unskilled occupations in
the national economy. (AR 23-24.) Accordingly, he found
Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 24.)
alleges that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of
treating psychiatrist Dr. Staci Johnson that she would not be
able to “adapt to new or stressful situations” or
“complete a 40-hour workweek without
decompensating.” (J. Stip. at 5.) She does not
challenge any of the ...