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.

Contreras v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 28, 2017

PAUL V. CONTRERAS, 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 his application for Social Security disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). 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 April 18, 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 1965. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 148.) He graduated from high school (AR 32) and worked as an insurance agent (AR 54, 180).

         On November 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging that he had been unable to work since August 21, 2013, because of traumatic brain injury, memory loss, migraine headaches, blurred vision, dizzy spells, loss of balance, and injuries to his right arm, neck, back, knees, and feet. (AR 59-60, 148-49.) After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration (AR 59-83), he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (AR 97). A hearing was held on April 1, 2015, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert. (AR 25-58.) In a written decision issued May 29, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 7-21.) Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, and on July 7, 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); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1996) (as amended). 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).

         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, the claimant is not disabled and his claim must be denied. § 404.1520(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).

         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”)[1] to perform his past work; if so, he is not disabled and the claim must be denied. § 404.1520(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. § 404.1520(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); 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 August 21, 2013, the alleged onset date. (AR 12.) At step two, he concluded that Plaintiff had the severe impairment of chronic headaches.[2] (Id.) At step three, he determined that Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or equal a listing. (AR 16.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work except that he “can sit, stand or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday; [he] can frequently climb and balance; [and he] can occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl.” (Id.) Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as an insurance agent, both as he actually performed it and as it is generally performed in the regional and national economy. (AR 20.) Accordingly, he found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 21.)

         V. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in (1) assessing the credibility of his subjective symptom statements and (2) determining his RFC. (See J. Stip. at 4-11.)[3]

         A. The ALJ Properly Assessed the Credibility of Plaintiff's Subjective Symptom Statements

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to articulate legally sufficient reasons for rejecting his subjective complaints. (J. Stip. at 9- 11.) For the reasons discussed below, the ALJ did not err.

         1. Applicable law[4]

         An ALJ's assessment of the credibility of a claimant's allegations concerning the severity of his symptoms is entitled to “great weight.” See Weetman v. Sullivan, 877 F.2d 20, 22 (9th Cir. 1989); Nyman v. Heckler, 779 F.2d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 1986). “[T]he ALJ is not required to believe every allegation of disabling pain, or else disability benefits would be available for the asking, a result plainly contrary to 42 U.S.C. § ...


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.