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Perdomo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 19, 2017

CONSUELO DEL CARMEN PERDOMO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER

          JEAN ROSENBLUTH, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her applications for Social Security disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation, filed February 22, 2017, which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1962. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 72.) She completed third grade in El Salvador and worked in this country cleaning hotel and motel rooms. (AR 39.)

         On July 31, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging in each that she had been unable to work since January 4, 2011, because of headaches, blurred vision, and back, neck, and left-arm pain. (AR 61-62, 83-84.)[1] After her applications were denied initially and on reconsideration (AR 58, 60, 61-71, 83-93, 94-107, 122-35, 137-38), she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (AR 172). A hearing was held on November 3, 2014, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified through an interpreter; a vocational expert also testified. (AR 35-57.) In a written decision issued January 30, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 9-34.) Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, and on May 3, 2016, it denied review. (AR 1-3.) This action followed.

         III. 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 of legal error and supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. See id.; Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such 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. Soc. Sec. Admin., 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. 1996). “If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, ” the reviewing court “may not substitute its judgment” for the Commissioner's. Id. at 720-21.

         IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

         People are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or 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. The Five-Step Evaluation Process

         The ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess 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. 1995) (as amended Apr. 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 must be denied. §§ 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 her ability to do basic work activities; if not, the claimant is not disabled and her claim must be denied. §§ 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 set forth at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed. §§ 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”)[2] to perform her past work; if so, she is not disabled and the claim must be denied. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving she 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 she can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. That determination comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.

         B. The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Process

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 4, 2011, the alleged onset date. (AR 18.) At step two, she found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of osteoarthritis of the neck, obesity, mild carpal tunnel syndrome “on the left, ” and depression. (Id.) At step three, she determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal a listing. (Id.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work except that she was literate but not fluent in English and was limited to simple tasks with no more than occasional ...


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