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Crenshaw v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 16, 2017

MITZI M. CRENSHAW, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROZELLA A. OLIVER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Mitzi M. Crenshaw (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Commissioner's[1]denial of her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         II. PROCEEDINGS BELOW

         On July 26, 2010, Plaintiff protectively applied for DIB alleging disability beginning June 8, 2009. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 77, 250-58.) Her application was denied initially on November 16, 2010, and upon reconsideration on March 11, 2011. (AR 100-01, 120-24, 126-30.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, and a hearing was held on March 16, 2012. (AR 72-92.) Appearing unrepresented, Plaintiff testified, along with an impartial vocational expert. (AR 74-91.) On September 4, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act, [2] from June 8, 2009, through the decision date. (AR 112.) Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the decision, and on March 13, 2014, the Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded the case to an ALJ. (AR 117-19.) Upon remand, the ALJ was directed to further evaluate the effect of a prior ALJ decision from 2003, [3] give further consideration to treating source opinions and explain the weight given to such opinion evidence, and further evaluate Plaintiff's ability to perform her past relevant work. (AR 117-19.) After remand, a second hearing was held on June 24, 2014, at which Plaintiff, represented by an attorney, testified. (AR 27-71.) An impartial medical expert and an impartial vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (AR 33-45, 60-70.) On July 23, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act, from June 8, 2009, through the decision date. (AR 11-21.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-4.) Plaintiff filed this action on May 10, 2016. (Dkt. No. 1.)

         The ALJ followed a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (AR 14.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes mellitus with noncompliance, hypertension, renal mass, gastroesophageal reflux disease, obesity, history of left Achilles tendon repair, and Baker's cyst. (AR 14.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (AR 14.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform light work . . . except [she] can perform occasional postural activities; she cannot climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; she is limited to occasional fine or gross manipulations; [she] must avoid exposure to hazards; she must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures; she requires restroom access; and she cannot perform work where intact sensation of the hands is required for safety.

(AR 15.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is able to perform past relevant work as a lobby director/escort as actually performed. (AR 20-21.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 21.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. A court must affirm an ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence, and if the proper legal standards were applied. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001). “‘Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). An ALJ can satisfy the substantial evidence requirement “by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

         “[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Secretary's conclusion.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotations omitted). “‘Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, ' the ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)); see also Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (“If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.”). The Court may review only “the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff raised two issues in her appeal. First, she contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider and explain what weight he assigned to the opinions of her treating physician, Dr. Edwin Ashley, in violation of the remand order. Second, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's testimony and make proper credibility findings. The Court addresses each claim in turn.

         A. Compliance with Remand Order and Evaluation of Dr. Ashley's Opinions

         1.Pertinen ...


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