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Bryant v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 30, 2017

ANTHONY WAYNE BRYANT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Honorable Jacqueline Chooljian UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. SUMMARY

         On November 10, 2016, Anthony Wayne Bryant (“plaintiff”) filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of plaintiff's application for benefits. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, respectively (“Plaintiff's Motion”) and (“Defendant's Motion”). The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; L.R. 7-15; November 21, 2016 Case Management Order ¶ 5.

         Based on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The findings of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material error.

         II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         On October 9, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits alleging disability beginning on December 12, 2012, due to degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, and testicular pain. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 31, 139, 171-72). The ALJ examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel) and a vocational expert on May 12, 2015. (AR 44-67).

         On June 30, 2015, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 31-39). Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, arthritic changes to the left acromioclavicular (AC) joint, status post bilateral inguinal hernia repairs, and history of prostate cancer (AR 33); (2) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 33-34); (3) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform medium work (20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c)) with additional limitations[2] (AR 34); (4) plaintiff could perform past relevant work as a truck driver (AR 38-39); and (5) plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of subjective symptoms were not entirely credible (AR 35).

         On September 16, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's application for review. (AR 1).

         III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Sequential Evaluation Process

         To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that the claimant is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work the claimant 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)).

         In assessing whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required to use the following five-step sequential evaluation process:

(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.
(2) Is the claimant's alleged impairment sufficiently severe to limit the claimant's ability to work? If not, the claimant is not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.
(3) Does the claimant's impairment, or combination of impairments, meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
(4) Does the claimant possess the residual functional capacity to perform claimant's past relevant work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
(5) Does the claimant's residual functional capacity, when considered with the claimant's age, education, and work experience, allow the claimant to adjust to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.

Stout v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration, 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) (2012) (explaining five-step sequential evaluation process).

         The claimant has the burden of proof at steps one through four, and the Commissioner has the burden of proof at step five. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

         B. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), a court may set aside a denial of benefits only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. Robbins v. Social Security Administration, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Flaten v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995)).

         Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citations and quotations omitted). It is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (citing Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 183 (9th Cir. 1990)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must “‘consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.'” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993)).

         While an ALJ's decision need not discuss every piece of evidence or be drafted with “ideal clarity, ” at a minimum it must explain the ALJ's reasoning with sufficient specificity and clarity to “allow[] for meaningful review.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); Hiler v. Astrue, 687 F.3d 1208, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         An ALJ's decision to deny benefits must be upheld if the evidence could reasonably support either affirming or reversing the decision. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (citing Flaten, 44 F.3d at 1457); see generally Rounds v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 807 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th Cir. 2015) (“Overall, the standard of review is ‘highly deferential.'”) (citation omitted). Even when an ALJ's decision contains error, it must be affirmed if the error was harmless. Treichler v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 775 F.3d 1090, 1099 (9th Cir. 2014).

         IV. ...


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