Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Willig v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 12, 2017

ERICA Z WILLIG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          ORDER RE: CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NOS. 18, 25

          MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Erica Z. Willig (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (“Defendant”), the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. Pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 18, 25. Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 16-5, the Motions have been submitted on the papers without oral argument. Having carefully reviewed the parties' positions, the Administrative Record (“AR”), and relevant legal authority, the Court hereby GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion and DENIES Defendant's Cross-Motion for the reasons set forth below.

         SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff has a long history of psychological disorders, including depression and borderline personality disorder; she also suffers from migraines. On April 30, 2012, Plaintiff filed a claim for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging disability beginning on September 1, 2010. AR 21. Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2013. On November 14, 2012, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Plaintiff's claim, finding that Plaintiff did not qualify for disability benefits. Plaintiff subsequently filed a request for reconsideration, which was denied on May 31, 2013. On June 20, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). ALJ K. Kwan conducted a hearing on May 27, 2014. Plaintiff testified in person at the hearing and was represented by counsel, Richard P. Zieman. The ALJ also heard testimony from Vocational Expert (“VE”) Lynda Berkley. See AR 23 (describing procedural history).

         A. The ALJ's Findings

         The regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Social Security provide for a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether a Social Security claimant is disabled.[1] 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The sequential inquiry is terminated when “a question is answered affirmatively or negatively in such a way that a decision can be made that a claimant is or is not disabled.” Pitzer v. Sullivan, 908 F.2d 502, 504 (9th Cir. 1990). During the first four steps of this sequential inquiry, the claimant bears the burden of proof to demonstrate disability. Valentine v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009). At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner “to show that the claimant can do other kinds of work.” Id. (quoting Embrey v. Bowen, 849 F.2d 418, 422 (9th Cir. 1988)).

         The ALJ must first determine whether the claimant is performing “substantial gainful activity, ” which would mandate that the claimant be found not disabled regardless of medical condition, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b). Here, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not performed substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2010. AR 23.

         At step two, the ALJ must determine, based on medical findings, whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of impairments as defined by the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If no severe impairment is found, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Here, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, and migraine headaches. AR 23.

         If the ALJ determines that the claimant has a severe impairment, the process proceeds to the third step, where the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or equals an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (the “Listing of Impairments”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment either meets the listed criteria for the diagnosis or is medically equivalent to the criteria of the diagnosis, he is conclusively presumed to be disabled, without considering age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Here, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets the listings. AR 24-26.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ must determine the claimant's Residual Function Capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). RFC refers to what an individual can do in a work setting, despite mental or physical limitations caused by impairments or related symptoms. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). In assessing an individual's RFC, the ALJ must consider all of the claimant's medically determinable impairments, including the medically determinable impairments that are nonsevere. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(e). Here, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but non-exertionally would be limited to unskilled tasks and should avoid dealing with the general public in performing her primary duties of the job. AR 26.

         The fourth step of the evaluation process requires that the ALJ determine whether the claimant's RFC is sufficient to perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 404.1520(f). Past relevant work is work performed within the past 15 years that was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for the claimant to learn to do it. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(1). If the claimant has the RFC to do his past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (iv). Here, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not capable of performing past relevant work through her date last insured. AR 30 (past relevant work included medical assistant, emergency medical technician, lab technician, phlebotomist, and veterinary technician).

         In the fifth step of the analysis, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy which the claimant can perform consistent with the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c). The Commissioner can meet this burden by relying on the testimony of a vocational expert or by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines at 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2. Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006). Here, based on the testimony of the vocational expert, Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform work as a janitor, laundry worker II, cleaner/housekeeper, and that each of these positions existed in significant numbers in the national economy. AR 30-31.

         B. Medical Evidence of Record

         Although there are voluminous treatment records from Plaintiff's treating physicians in the AR, there is no evidence that any of Plaintiff's treating physicians submitted to the SSA medical source statements or RFC Assessments regarding Plaintiff. Two SSA consultants reviewed Plaintiff's medical records: one reviewed records through October 2012, and the second reviewed records through May 2013. After Plaintiff attended her hearing before the ALJ, she underwent psychological testing with SSA consulting examiner Dr. Janine Marinos, Ph.D. No medical expert testified at the hearing.

         C. ALJ's Decision and Plaintiff's Appeal

         On November 3, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 18-36. This decision became final when the Appeals Council declined to review it on April 4, 2016. AR 1-6. Having exhausted all administrative remedies, Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on June 6, 2016. See Compl. Plaintiff filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment on October 25, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.