United States District Court, C.D. California
DECISION IS NOT INTENDED IN LEXIS/NEXIS, WESTLAW OR ANY OTHER
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
SUZANNE H. SEGAL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Mejia (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner” or the
“Agency”) denying her application for social
security benefits. The parties consented, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below,
the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and this case is
REMANDED for an award of benefits consistent with this
THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must demonstrate
a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that
prevents her from engaging in substantial gainful activity
and that is expected to result in death or to last for a
continuous period of at least twelve months. Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the
claimant incapable of performing the work she previously
performed and incapable of performing any other substantial
gainful employment that exists in the national economy.
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir.
1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).
decide if a claimant is entitled to benefits, an ALJ conducts
a five-step inquiry. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. The steps are:
(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not,
proceed to step two.
(2) Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, the
claimant is found not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.
(3) Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of
the specific impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is found disabled.
If not, proceed to step four.
(4) Is the claimant capable of performing her past work? If
so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to
(5) Is the claimant able to do any other work? If not, the
claimant is found disabled. If so, the claimant is found not
Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-99; see also Bustamante v.
Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001)
(citations omitted); 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(b)-(g)(1) & 416.920(b)-(g)(1).
claimant has the burden of proof at steps one through four,
and the Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five.
Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 953-54. Additionally, the ALJ has an
affirmative duty to assist the claimant in developing the
record at every step of the inquiry. Id. at 954. If,
at step four, the claimant meets her burden of establishing
an inability to perform past work, the Commissioner must show
that the claimant can perform some other work that exists in
“significant numbers” in the national economy,
taking into account the claimant's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
experience. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098, 1100; Reddick, 157
F.3d at 721; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g)(1),
416.920(g)(1). The Commissioner may do so by the testimony of
a vocational expert or by reference to the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines appearing in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 2 (commonly known as “the Grids”).
Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir.
2001). When a claimant has both exertional (strength-related)
and non-exertional limitations, the Grids are inapplicable
and the ALJ must take the testimony of a vocational expert.
Moore v. Apfel, 216 F.3d 864, 869 (9th Cir. 2000)
(citing Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1340 (9th
THE ALJ'S DECISION
employed the five-step sequential evaluation process in
evaluating Plaintiff's case. At step one, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act
through December 31, 2018, and had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since July 27, 2013, her alleged onset date.
(Certified Administrative Record (“AR”) 17). At
step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: psychosis, schizoaffective disorder,
conversion disorder, and depression. (AR 17).
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR 18).
four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: she can have
“occasional” interaction with the public; work
should not require more than occasional supervision, defined
as requiring a supervisor's critical checking of work;
work should be limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks
in a work environment not requiring more than occasional
production or pace work; and work should involve only simple
work-related decisions, with few if any changes in the work
place. (AR 19). In making this finding, the ALJ ruled that
Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms were not
entirely credible. (AR 20). The ALJ also discussed the
results of a consultative mental status examination performed
by Dr. David Starr, Ph.D.; assigned “little
weight” to a ...