United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER RE: CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT.
NOS. 18, 25
MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge.
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
SECURITY ADMINISTRATION PROCEEDINGS
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).
The ALJ's Findings
regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Social
Security provide for a five-step sequential analysis to
determine whether a Social Security claimant is
disabled. 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Medical Evidence of Record
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.
ALJ's Decision and Plaintiff's Appeal
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, ...