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Jensen v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 20, 2017

KEVIN JENSEN Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          KENDALL J. NEWMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kevin Jensen seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act (“Act”).[1] In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from February 15, 2009, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through October 24, 2014, the date of the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) decision. (ECF No. 19.) The Commissioner opposed plaintiff's motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 20.) No optional reply brief was filed.

         After carefully considering the record and the parties' briefing, the court DENIES plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on May 3, 1966; completed 14 years of education and obtained an Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice; can communicate in English; and previously worked as an automotive technician. (Administrative Transcript (“AT”) 35, 50-51.)[2] On July 30, 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging that his disability began on February 15, 2009. Additionally, plaintiff filed for SSI on August 21, 2013, again alleging disability beginning on February 15, 2009. Plaintiff claimed that he was disabled due to degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel, depression, trouble sleeping, asthma, breathing problems, hypertension, and arthritis. (AT 25, 27, 209.) After plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, an ALJ conducted a hearing on May 6, 2014. (AT 44-72.) The ALJ subsequently issued a decision dated October 24, 2014, determining that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from February 15, 2009, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AT 22-43.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on April 20, 2016. (AT 1-7.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action on June 23, 2016, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 1.)

         II. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ failed to properly account for plaintiff's mental impairments; and (2) whether the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Sultan.[3]

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). “The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Summary of the ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB and SSI pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework.[4] As an initial matter, the ALJ determined that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act for purposes of DIB through June 30, 2014. (AT 27.) At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 15, 2009, his alleged disability onset date. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mild degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine, moderate carpal tunnel syndrome of the left wrist, mild carpal tunnel syndrome of the right wrist, mild degenerative joint disease of the right and left shoulders, and obesity. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 30.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's RFC, finding that plaintiff could perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b), except that plaintiff could:

lift and carry 25 pounds occasionally, 20 pounds frequently, and sit, stand and walk for 6 hours each in an 8-hour day. The claimant can frequently climb, but occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can frequently finger and handle and frequently perform overhead reaching with both arms.

(Id.) At step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AT 34.) However, at step five the ALJ found that, in light of plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the vocational expert's (“VE”) testimony, there were jobs that existed in ...


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