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Gonzales v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 17, 2017

JENNIFER GONZALES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HONORABLE KENLY KIYA KATO United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Jennifer Gonzales (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner” or “Agency”) denying her application for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of December 15, 2010 for both. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 163-77. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on July 23, 2013, and upon reconsideration on March 6, 2014. Id. at 102-06, 108-15.

         On May 1, 2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Id. at 120. On July 16, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before the assigned ALJ. Id. at 25-41. A vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. Id. at 39-41. On August 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. Id. at 8-24.

         On October 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed a request to the Agency's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 7. On October 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Id. at 1-6.

         On November 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant action. ECF Docket No. (“Dkt.”) 1, Compl. This matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation (“JS”), filed on July 5, 2017, which the Court has taken under submission. Dkt. 19, JS.

         II.

         PLAINTIFF'S BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on January 20, 1966 and her alleged disability onset date is December 15, 2010. AR at 163-77. She was forty-four years old on the alleged disability onset date and forty-nine at the time of the hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 11, 19. Plaintiff has obtained her GED and has prior work experience as a cashier/sales associate, and nurse's assistant. Id. at 212. Plaintiff alleges disability based on “congestive heart failure, panic disorder, anemia, hypertension, pre-diabetic.” Id. at 211.

         III.

         STANDARD FOR EVALUATING DISABILITY

         To qualify for DIB and SSI, 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). 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).

         To decide if a claimant is disabled, and therefore 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.[2]
4. Is the claimant capable of performing work she has done in the past? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
5. Is the claimant able to do any other work? If not, the claimant is found disabled. If so, the claimant is found not disabled.

See Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098-99; see also Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 953-54 (9th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(g)(1), 416.920(b)-(g)(1).

         The 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 ...


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