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Lawler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 26, 2017

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GAIL J. STANDISH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Cathleen Lawler (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint seeking review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) denial of his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Social Security Income (“SSI”). The parties filed consents to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge [Dkts. 11 and 12] and briefs addressing disputed issues in the case [Dkt. 17 (“Pltf.'s Br.”); Dkt. 19 (“Def.'s Br.”)]. The Court has taken the parties' briefing under submission without oral argument. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that this matter should be remanded for further proceedings.

         II. ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION UNDER REVIEW

         On February 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for both DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of September 23, 2012. [Dkt. 15, Administrative Record (“AR”) 88, 89.] The Commissioner denied her initial claim for benefits and then denied her claim upon reconsideration. [AR 63, 87.] On September 8, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) John Kays held a hearing. [AR 25, 8-24.] On December 17, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's request for benefits. [AR 8-22.] Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, and on March 28, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review. [AR 1-5.]

         Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(g)(1); 416.920(b)-(g)(1). At step one, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 23, 2012, the alleged onset date. [AR 13.] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: morbid obesity, bilateral knee degenerative joint disease, status post right knee arthroscopic surgery; and right foot degenerative joint disease. [Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c).] Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. [AR 14 (citing 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).]

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

[T]o perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except: lifting no more than 50 pounds occasionally, 25 pounds frequently; restricted to standing and walking 4 hours; sitting 6 hours.

         [AR 15.] Applying this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a Home Health Aide. [AR 18.]

         III. GOVERNING STANDARD

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citation and quotations omitted); see also Hoopai, 499 F.3d at 1074.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to consider the entirety of the opinion of Dr. John Chung, a consultative examiner who performed an Orthopedic Evaluation of Plaintiff. [Pltf.'s Br. at 6.] Dr. Chung assessed Plaintiff's limitations as follows:

Based on the objective finding, it is my opinion that she had no limitation to use both upper extremities to perform any task at or above shoulder level. She has had no limitation of activity, which requires agility. In an 8-hour day, she is able to stand and walk 4 hours and sit for 6 hours. She is able to carry and lift 25 pounds on a frequent basis and 50 pounds on an occasional basis. There is no postural limitation. However, there is environmental ...

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