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.

Rivera v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 22, 2017

ELIZABETH RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN E. SCOTT, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff 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 opinion.

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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.

         On 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[1], 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.

         Mentally, 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[2] (“VE”), the ALJ found that Plaintiff could return to her past relevant work as a garment sorter.[3] AR 30. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. AR 30.

         II.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 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.

         In 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 permissibly discounted.”).

         “A 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).

         A. The Five-Step Evaluation of Disability Process.

         A 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).

         The ALJ 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), 416.920(a)(4)(i).

         If the 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).

         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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).

         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 (“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.

         If that 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.

         III.

         ISSUES PRESENTED

         Issue One: Whether the ALJ properly determined that Plaintiff's past employment as a garment sorter qualified as past relevant work.

         Issue 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.)

         IV.

         DISCUSSION

         A. The ALJ failed to provide any reasons for discounting Dr. Longhitano's Opinions.

         1. Applicable Law.

         In 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 ...


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.