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Hawk v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 4, 2017

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




         Mitchell Darin Hawk (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on April 25, 2016, seeking review of the denial of his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Dkt. No. 1.) On May 18, 2016, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 12, 15.) On January 5, 2017, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”). (Dkt. No 23.) Plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding for further proceedings or an immediate award of benefits. (Joint Stip. at 18.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or, in the alternative, remanded for further proceedings. (See Id. at 18-19.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.


         On October 30, 2012, Plaintiff, who was born on November 25, 1967, protectively filed an application for DIB.[2] (See Administrative Record (“AR”) 9, 178.) Plaintiff alleged disability commencing February 6, 2012 due to “collapsed lung with pleural effusion [and] 3 fractured ribs; back injury; difficulty breathing - chest pain; anxiety; depression; head injury trauma; sleep apnea; diagnosed with pneumothorax; psychological issues; severe memory loss due to accident.” (AR 204.) Plaintiff previously worked as a dump truck driver (DOT 902.683-010). (AR 23, 196.) After the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially (AR 74) and on reconsideration (id. 89), Plaintiff requested a hearing (see Id. 109). Administrative Law Judge Helen E. Hesse (“ALJ”) held a hearing on December 9, 2014 (id. 30). Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified before the ALJ as did vocational expert (“VE”) Alan Boroskin. (See AR 33-54.) On January 14, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, denying Plaintiff's application for a period of disability and DIB. (Id. 9-24.) On March 24, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. 1-4.)


         The ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017. (AR 11.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his February 6, 2012 alleged onset date. (AR 11.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: muscle strain/sprain; alleged back pain; and mild obesity. (AR 12.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable mental impairments of anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and organic brain syndrome, considered singly and in combination, were nonsevere. (AR 12.) 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. 14.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work with the following limitations:

[Plaintiff] can lift and/or carry fifty pounds occasionally, twenty-five pounds frequently; . . . can sit, stand, or walk for six hours out [of] an eight-hour workday; . . . can occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; . . . can frequently climb stairs, bend, balance, kneel, stoop crouch, and crawl.

(AR 15.)

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was able perform his past relevant work as a dump truck driver (DOT 902.683-010). (AR 23.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from the alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 23-24.)


         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 ...

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