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Gates v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 16, 2017

MYRA LIN GATES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          ALEXANDER F. MacKINNON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Myra Lin Gates filed her application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on August 29, 2011 alleging a disability beginning May 15, 2000. After denial on initial review and on reconsideration, a hearing took place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on August 21, 2012. In a written decision dated January 17, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from May 15, 2000 through the date of last insured. The Appeals Council declined to set aside the ALJ's unfavorable decision in a notice dated March 18, 2014. Plaintiff filed a Complaint herein on January 8, 2016, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for benefits.

         In accordance with the Court's case management order, Plaintiff filed a memorandum in support of the complaint on September 6, 2016 (“Pl. Mem.”) and the Commissioner filed a memorandum in support of her answer on March 8, 2017 (“Def. Mem.”). Plaintiff did not file a Reply. Thus, this matter now is ready for decision.[1]

         II.

         DISPUTED ISSUE

         As reflected in the parties' memoranda, the sole disputed issue that Plaintiff has raised is whether the ALJ erred in failing to include the mild mental limitation that he found Plaintiff to suffer from in his hypothetical to the vocational expert (VE).

         III.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” but less than a preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. This Court must review the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035. Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

         IV.

         FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

         The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995), as amended April 9, 1996. In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting his ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient “residual functional capacity” to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). If the claimant meets ...


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