United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
filed this action on November 25, 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 December 19, 2016, and December 28, 2016. Pursuant
to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint
Submission (alternatively “JS”) on July 20, 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 June 10, 1957. [Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 179, 188.] She has past relevant work
experience as an order clerk, sales clerk, and data entry
clerk. [AR at 42.]
August 14, 2013, plaintiff 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 December 15,
2012. [AR at 32, 179-87, 188-94.] After her applications were
denied, plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). [AR at 32,
124-25.] A hearing was held on April 14, 2015, at which time
plaintiff appeared represented by an attorney, and testified
on her own behalf. [AR at 49-91.] Following the hearing,
interrogatories were propounded to a vocational expert
(“VE”), who responded to the questions under
oath. [AR at 305-11.] Although she was given notice that she
could do so [AR at 312-13], plaintiff did not submit cross
interrogatories, additional evidence, or request a
supplemental hearing; the sworn answers were admitted into
evidence. [AR at 32.] On October 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a disability
from December 15, 2012, the alleged onset date, through
October 14, 2015, the date of the decision. [AR at 32-43.]
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council. [AR at 25-28.] When the Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review on September 27,
2016 [AR at 1-6], 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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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.”)
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 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 December 15, 2012, the
alleged onset date. [AR at 34.] At step two, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has the”medically determinable
conditions of ill-being” of degenerative disc disease,
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes mellitus, and
major depressive order, which in combination cause more than
a minimal limitation on her ability to engage in work or
work-like activity and, therefore, “constitute a severe
impairment.” [AR at 35.] 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 36.] 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),
[Can] stand and walk up to six (6) hours, cumulatively, and
sit up to six (6) hours, cumulatively, in an eight hour work
day. [Plaintiff] may stand up to 30 minutes at one time and
walk up to 30 minutes at one time. [Plaintiff] can lift and
carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently.
[Plaintiff] may alternate positions every thirty minutes.
[Plaintiff] can occasionally climb, balance, bend, stoop, and
crawl, but never climb rope, scaffold, or ladders.
[Plaintiff] may more than frequently, but less than
constantly, perform complex technical work and can perform a
full range of simple, repetitive work. [Plaintiff] may
perform work at stress level 7 on a scale of (1) one to (10)
ten, one, by example, the work ...