United States District Court, E.D. California
ALLISON CLAIRE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, and for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C.
reasons that follow, the court will DENY plaintiff's
motion for summary judgment, and GRANT the Commissioner's
cross-motion for summary judgment.
applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”)
and for supplemental security income (“SSI”) on
September 26, 2012. Administrative Record (“AR”)
120-21. The disability onset date for both
applications was alleged to be August 27, 2010. Id.
Plaintiff was insured for DIB through December 31, 2012. AR
257. The applications were disapproved initially and on
reconsideration. AR 120-21, 168-80. On July 22, 2014, ALJ
Dante Alegre presided over the hearing on plaintiff's
challenge to the disapprovals. AR 46-67 (transcript).
Plaintiff was present and testified at the hearing. AR 48.
Plaintiff was represented by Ms. Svetlana Kumansky at the
hearing. AR 48. Susan Creighton-Clavel, Vocational Expert,
also testified. AR 48. An interpreter was present to assist
plaintiff as necessary. Id.
October 23, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
finding plaintiff “not disabled” under Sections
216(i) and 223(d) of Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i), 423(d), and Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of
Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). AR
9-21 (decision), 22-25 (exhibit list). On October 23, 2014,
the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security. AR 1-5.
filed this action on April 12, 2016. ECF No. 1; see
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383c(3). The parties
consented to the jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. ECF
Nos. 1, 7. The parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment, based upon the Administrative Record filed by the
Commissioner, have been fully briefed. ECF Nos. 14
(plaintiff's summary judgment motion), 24
(Commissioner's summary judgment motion), 26
previously applied for DIB and SSI in July 2008; an ALJ
denied plaintiff's prior application on August 26, 2010.
was born on July 4, 1968, and accordingly was 42 years old on
the alleged disability onset date, making Ms. Plummer a
“younger person” under the regulations. AR 256;
see 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c).
Plaintiff obtained her GED in Russia, and attended adult
school in the United States to learn English. AR 52.
Plaintiff can communicate in English but was assisted by a
translator when she appeared before the ALJ. AR 48.
federal court's review of Social Security determinations
is quite limited.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806
F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015). The Commissioner's
decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld
“if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards.”
Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006,
1011 (9th Cir. 2003). “‘The findings of the
Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive . . ..'” Andrews
v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting
42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” but
“may be less than a preponderance.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(internal quotation marks omitted). “While inferences
from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only
those ‘reasonably drawn from the record' will
suffice.” Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063,
1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).
this court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the
Commissioner, the court nonetheless must review the record as
a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and
the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's]
conclusion.” Desrosiers v. Secretary of HHS,
846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); Jones v. Heckler,
760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (“The court must
consider both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion; it may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
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). “Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). However,
the court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in
his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground
upon which he did not rely.” Orn v. Astrue,
495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007); Connett v.
Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003) (“It
was error for the district court to affirm the ALJ's
credibility decision based on evidence that the ALJ did not
court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it
is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is
“clear from the record that an ALJ's error was
‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.'” Robbins v. SSA, 466 F.3d
880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Stout v.
Commissioner, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006)); see
also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir.
principles of res judicata apply to administrative decisions,
although the doctrine is applied less rigidly to
administrative proceedings than to judicial
proceedings.” Chavez v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 691,
693 (9th Cir. 1988). The ALJ's or Appeals Council's
finding of non-disability, once it becomes the final decision
of the Commissioner, is given “res judicata
effect” as to the period of disability covered by the
decision, so long as no “manifest injustice”
would result. Lyle v. Secretary of Health & Human
Services, 700 F.2d 566, 568 & 568 n.2 (9th Cir.
1983). However, for any subsequent, un-adjudicated period of
alleged disability, an ALJ's finding that a claimant is
not disabled only “create[s] a presumption that [the
claimant] continued to be able to work” after the
adjudicated period. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821,
827-28 (9th Cir. 1996) (emphasis added). “The claimant,
in order to overcome the presumption of continuing
nondisability arising from the first administrative law
judge's findings of nondisability, must prove
‘changed circumstances' indicating a greater
disability.” Chavez, 844 F.2d at 693 (quoting
Taylor v. Heckler, 765 F.2d 872, 875 (9th Cir.
1985)); Light v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 119 F.3d 789,
791-92 (9th Cir. 1997) (“[t]he claimant may overcome
the presumption by proving the existence of ‘changed
circumstances' that would establish disability'
”) (some internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting
Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir.
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income are
available for every eligible individual who is
“disabled.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(E)
(DIB), 1381a (SSI). Plaintiff is “disabled” if
she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due
to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987) (citing
identically worded provisions of 42 U.S.C. §§
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine whether an applicant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4); Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20,
24-25 (2003) (setting forth the “five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine disability” under Title
II and Title XVI). The following summarizes the sequential
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If ...