United States District Court, C.D. California
PAUL V. CONTRERAS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING
ROSENBLUTH U.S. Magistrate Judge
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.
was born in 1965. (Administrative Record (“AR”)
148.) He graduated from high school (AR 32) and worked as an
insurance agent (AR 54, 180).
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
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.
THE 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); 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. §
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. §
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.
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 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.
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.
The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Process
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. (Id.) At step three, he
determined that Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or
equal a listing. (AR 16.)
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.)
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.)
The ALJ Properly Assessed the Credibility of
Plaintiff's Subjective Symptom Statements
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.
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. §