United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER REMANDING THE ACTION PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR
OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G) ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT
IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFF MOLLY LO AND AGAINST DEFENDANT NANCY
BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
JENNIFER L. THURSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Lo asserts she is entitled to disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. Plaintiff argues the administrative
law judge erred in evaluating the record and seeks judicial
review of the decision to deny her applications for benefits.
Because the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical record, the
matter is REMANDED for further proceedings
pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
filed her applications for benefits on April 25, 2012,
alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2012. (Doc. 9-3
at 20) The Social Security Administration denied
Plaintiff's applications at both the initial level and
upon reconsideration. (See generally Doc. 9-4) After
requesting a hearing, Plaintiff testified before an ALJ on
July 24, 2014. (Doc. 9-3 at 36) The ALJ determined Plaintiff
was not disabled and issued an order denying benefits on
September 16, 2014. (Id. at 17-29) The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the
decision on August 25, 2015. (Id. at 2-4) Therefore,
the ALJ's determination became the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”).
courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability
claims after a decision by the Commissioner to deny benefits
under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of
fact, such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The ALJ's determination that the
claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the
proper legal standards were applied and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510
(9th Cir. 1987).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. 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) (quoting Consol.
Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as
a whole must be considered, because “[t]he court must
consider both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion.” Jones v.
Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).
qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff
must establish he is unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to
have a disability only if:
his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work,
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The burden of proof is on a
claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan,
903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). If a claimant
establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to prove the claimant is able to
engage in other substantial gainful employment. Maounois
v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984).
achieve uniform decisions, the Commissioner established a
sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's
alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920(a)-(f). The process requires the ALJ to determine
whether Plaintiff (1) engaged in substantial gainful activity
during the period of alleged disability, (2) had medically
determinable severe impairments (3) that met or equaled one
of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether Plaintiff (4) had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
to past relevant work or (5) the ability to perform other
work existing in significant numbers at the state and
national level. Id. The ALJ must consider
testimonial and objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527, 416.927.
Relevant Medical Evidence
2011, Plaintiff went to the Kings Winery Medical Clinic,
complaining of pain and “feeling down.” (Doc.
9-10 at 35) Plaintiff reported she “was feeling
depressed about 5 years and it got worse gradually, ”
and had feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
(Id. at 34) Plaintiff said she “became
withdrawn” and “had no motivation to do
things.” (Id.) Plaintiff reported hearing
voices and feeling suicidal, though she did not have suicidal
ideations at the appointment. (Id.) Further,
Plaintiff said she “had difficulty [with] concentration
and remembering things.” (Id.) During the
examination, she appeared sad and tearful. (Id.)
Plaintiff was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and
received prescriptions for Prozac and Zyprexa. (Id.)
notes from Kings Winery indicate that at a follow-up
appointment in August 2011, Plaintiff reported she
“took medications regularly, however she was still
feeling depressed.” (Doc. 9-10 at 33) As a result, the
doctor increased the dosage of her prescription for Prozac.
(Id.) Plaintiff's medications were altered again
in October 2011, when she reported that she took the
medication “regularly, ” but “was feeling
hopeless, worthless…[and] tired.” (Id.
at 29) The following month, Plaintiff reported that
“she was still having insomnia.” (Id. at
27) However, her mood was normal, she had a pleasant
demeanor, and she did not have any hallucinations.
had a comprehensive assessment for services from Fresno
County Department of Behavioral Health on January 12, 2012.
(Doc. 9-10 at 5-14) Plaintiff reported she had
“frequent nightmares about unknown people who will hurt
[her], ” heard voices, and “saw black
shadows.” (Id. at 5) Plaintiff stated she had
“problems staying asleep and [awoke] easily due to the
frequent nightmares.” (Id. at 9) She reported
she was on psychotropic medications that were prescribed by a
psychiatrist from Kings Winery Clinic. (Id. at 8) In
addition, Plaintiff said she had “poor memory and
concentration.” (Id. at 12) Doan Truong, a
social worker, observed that Plaintiff appeared
“[d]epressed, irritable, … and worried, ”
and “[s]he cried several times during the
interview.” (Id. at 9, 12) Mr. Truong believed
Plaintiff had fair immediate and short term memory, poor
insight, poor judgment, and fair abstraction. (Id.
at 10) Mr. Truong recommended Plaintiff be admitted to the
County's Prevention Early Intervention program, through
which Plaintiff began meeting with a social worker. (See
Id. at 13, 19)
Helen Patterson completed a mental residual functional
capacity assessment for Plaintiff's current abilities on
July 14, 2012. (Doc. 9-4 at 41-43) Dr. Patterson opined
Plaintiff was “[n]ot significantly limited” with
the ability to understand, remember, and carry out
“very short and simple instructions, ” but was
“[m]oderately limited” with detailed
instructions. (Id. at 41-42) She believed that
Plaintiff had moderate limitations with maintaining attention
and concentration, completing a normal workday and workweek,
interacting appropriately with the public, and getting along
with coworkers or peers. (Id. at 42)
August 7, 2012, Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital on a
5150 hold, “as a danger to self and danger to
others.” (Doc. 9-11 at 31, 32) Plaintiff said
“she [was] very depressed and suicidal and that she
[needed] protection… in order to keep herself
safe.” (Id. at 33) Dr. Dwight Sievert observed
that Plaintiff was “oriented and able to accurately
name the day, date and hospital.” (Id. at 34)
In addition, Dr. Sievert opined Plaintiff's
“[i]nsight, judgment and impulse appear[ed] to be
reasonably well preserved with the exception of impulse
control in the area of self harm.” (Id.)
Plaintiff was discharged on ...