United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. SCOTT, United States Magistrate Judge
Elizabeth Rivera (“Plaintiff”) appeals the final
decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
denying her application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). For the reasons discussed below, the
Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and the matter is
REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this
applied for SSI on July 13, 2012, alleging disability
commencing July 13, 2012. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 176-84. An ALJ conducted a hearing on
October 9, 2014, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by
an attorney, appeared and testified. AR 37-84.
January 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiff's request for benefits. AR 20-36. The ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
hypothyroidism, status post meniscus degeneration of the left
knee, history of hyperlipidemia, and bipolar disorder II. AR 25.
Notwithstanding her impairments, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work with the following
additional limitations: she can lift and/or carry fifty
pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; she
can stand and/or walk for six hours and sit for eight hours
in an eight-hour workday; she can walk for 30 minutes at a
time and stand for one hour at a time; she can frequently
kneel, crouch and crawl; she can frequently push/pull with
her upper extremities. AR 26-27.
the ALJ found that Plaintiff is limited to the performance of
simple, routine, and repetitive work and “to less than
occasional performance of complex technical work”; she
is able to interact occasionally with co-workers, the general
public, and supervisors; and she “is able to perform
work at stress level three (3) on a scale of ‘1 to 10,
' ‘10' (by example) being the work of an air
controller, and ‘1' being the work of a night
dishwasher.” AR 27. Based on this RFC and the written
answers provided by a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff could return
to her past relevant work as a garment sorter. AR 30. Therefore,
the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. AR 30.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's
findings and decision should be upheld if they are free from
legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based
on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007).
Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401;
Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th
Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035
(citing Robbins v. Comm'r of SSA, 466 F.3d 880,
882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial
evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court “must
review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both
the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts
from the Commissioner's conclusion.” Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). “If the
evidence can reasonably support either affirming or
reversing, ” the reviewing court “may not
substitute its judgment” for that of the Commissioner.
Id. at 720-21.
determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ should consider
those limitations for which there is support in the record,
but the ALJ need not consider properly rejected evidence of
subjective complaints. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d
1211, 1217 (9th Cir. 2005) (“Preparing a
function-by-function analysis for medical conditions or
impairments that the ALJ found neither credible nor supported
by the record is unnecessary.”); Batson v.
Comm'r of SSA, 359 F.3d 1190, 1197 (9th Cir. 2004)
(“The ALJ was not required to incorporate evidence from
the opinions of Batson's treating physicians, which were
decision of the ALJ will not be reversed for errors that are
harmless.” Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676,
679 (9th Cir. 2005). Generally, an error is harmless if it
either “occurred during a procedure or step the ALJ was
not required to perform, ” or if it “was
inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability
determination.” Stout v. Comm'r of SSA,
454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006).
The Five-Step Evaluation of Disability
person is “disabled” for purposes of receiving
Social Security benefits if he is unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or which has
lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at
least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). A
claimant for disability benefits bears the burden of
producing evidence to demonstrate that he was disabled within
the relevant time period. Johnson v. Shalala, 60
F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995).
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in
assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); Lester v.
Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n. 5 (9th Cir. 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
must be denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
claimant is not 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 not
disabled is made and the claim must be denied. Id.,
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).
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.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
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
(“RFC”) to perform his past work; if so, the
claimant is not disabled and the claim must be denied.
Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving he
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets that burden, a prima
facie case of disability is established. Id.
happens or if the claimant has no past relevant work, the
Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the
claimant is not disabled because he can perform other
substantial gainful work available in the national economy.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).
That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the
sequential analysis. Id. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n. 5;
Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
One: Whether the ALJ properly determined that
Plaintiff's past employment as a garment sorter qualified
as past relevant work.
Two: Whether the ALJ properly considered the opinions of
treating doctors Maria Longhitano, M.D., and Liauna
Tolmasoff, Psy.D. (Dkt. 21 [Joint Stipulation or
“JS”] at 4.)
The ALJ failed to provide any reasons for discounting Dr.
deciding how to resolve conflicts between medical opinions,
the ALJ must consider that there are three types of
physicians who may offer opinions in Social Security cases:
(1) those who directly treated the plaintiff, (2) those who
examined but did not treat the plaintiff, and (3) those who
did not treat or examine the plaintiff. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d
821, 830 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended on April 9, 1996). A
treating physician's opinion is generally entitled to
more weight than that of an examining physician, which is
generally entitled to more weight than that of a
non-examining physician. Lester, 81 F.3d at 830.
Thus, the ALJ must give “‘specific and legitimate
reasons' supported by substantial evidence in the
record” for rejecting a treating physician's
opinion in favor of a non-treating physician's
contradictory opinion or an examining physician's opinion