United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING
ROSENBLUTH, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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.)
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.) 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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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.
EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
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).
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
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),
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. §§
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).
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 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
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.
The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Process
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.)
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