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Fox v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 27, 2017

JEFFREY FOX, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER

          JEAN ROSENBLUTH, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         I. PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Social Security disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation, filed May 2, 2017, which the Court has taken under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in 1951. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 122.) He obtained a GED (AR 141) and worked as a real estate agent (AR 33).

         On March 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging that he had been unable to work since March 1, 2007, because of post-traumatic-stress disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, hearing loss, arthritis, sleep apnea, hypothyroid, and degenerative disc disease. (AR 60, 122-29.) After his application was denied (AR 60-69), he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (AR 75-76). A hearing was held on December 3, 2015, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert. (AR 29-59.) In a written decision issued March 9, 2016, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time between October 1, 2007, his date first insured, and December 31, 2008, his date last insured. (AR 11-28.) Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, and on April 29, 2016, it denied review. (AR 1-4.) This action followed.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. See id.; Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court “must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). “If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, ” the reviewing court “may not substitute its judgment” for the Commissioner's. Id. at 720-21.

         IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

         People 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 has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

         A. The Five-Step Evaluation Process

         The ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1996) (as amended). 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 must be denied. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i).

         If the claimant is not 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 his ability to do basic work activities; if not, the claimant is not disabled and his claim must be denied. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).

         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 set forth at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

         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 (“RFC”)[1] to perform his past work; if so, he is not disabled and the claim must be denied. ยง 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the burden of proving he is unable to perform past ...


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