United States District Court, C.D. California, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
filed this action on September 6, 2016, seeking review of the
Commissioner'sdenial of her applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) payments. The parties
filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate
Judge on September 29, 2016, and October 14, 2016. Pursuant
to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint
Submission (alternatively “JS”) on June 23, 2017,
that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issue
in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Submission under
submission without oral argument.
was born on February 23, 1965. [Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 162, 169.] She has past relevant work
experience as a bench assembler and a store laborer. [AR at
23, 44, 46-47.]
August 27, 2013, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for a period of disability and DIB, and an application for
SSI payments, alleging that she has been unable to work since
June 7, 2013. [AR at 15, 162-68, 169-75.] After her
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration,
plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). [AR at 15, 95.]
A hearing was held on December 23, 2014, at which time
plaintiff appeared represented by an attorney, and testified
on her own behalf. [AR at 30-50.] A vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. [AR at 44-49.] On February
18, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff
was not under a disability from June 7, 2013, the alleged
onset date, through February 18, 2015, the date of the
decision. [AR at 15-24.] Plaintiff requested review of the
ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. [AR at 10-11.]
When the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review on July 6, 2016 [AR at 1-5], the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sam v.
Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008) (per
curiam) (citations omitted). This action followed.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to
review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The
decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application
of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622
F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d
1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720
(9th Cir. 1998) (same). When determining whether substantial
evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision,
the Court examines the administrative record as a whole,
considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Mayes
v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001)
(citation omitted); see Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (“[A]
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.”) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). “Where evidence is susceptible to more
than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision
should be upheld.” Ryan, 528 F.3d at 1198
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see
Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir.
2006) (“If the evidence can support either affirming or
reversing the ALJ's conclusion, [the reviewing court] may
not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.”)
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 which has
lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A);
Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir.
THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential
evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir.
1995), as amended April 9, 1996. 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 is denied.
Id. If the claimant is not currently 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 her ability to do basic work
activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and
the claim is denied. Id. 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 (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R.
part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is
conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id.
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” to perform her past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that she
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a prima
facie case of disability is established. Id.
The Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that
the claimant is not disabled, because she can perform other
substantial gainful work available in the national economy.
Id. The determination of this issue comprises the
fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920; 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 June 7, 2013, the alleged
onset date. [AR at 17.] At step two, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has the severe impairments of hypertension;
history of ventral hernia repair, status post repair; history
of intra-abdominal adhesions, status post adhesional lysis;
and history of diverticulitis and diverting colostomy. [AR at
17-18.] At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff does
not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals any of the impairments in the
Listing. [AR at 19.] The ALJ further found that plaintiff
retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b),  as follows:
[Plaintiff] is able to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally,
10 pounds frequently; sit for 6 hours out of an 8 hour
workday; and stand or walk for 6 hours out of an 8 hour day,
all with normal breaks. [Plaintiff] can frequently climb
stairs, ramps, ladders, ropes, and ...