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Renteria v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 7, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Henrietta Renteria (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on July 25, 2016, seeking review of the denial of her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (See Dkt. No. 1.) On March 14, 2017, the parties filed a “Joint Stipulation” (“Joint Stip.”) outlining the disputed issues in the case. (Dkt. No. 19.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), all parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (See Dkt. Nos. 11, 12, 13.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.


         On December 17, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Title II DIB benefits, alleging a disability onset date of September 3, 2011. (Joint Stip. at 2; see also AR 76, 166-69.) Plaintiff was born on November 16, 1962 and was 48 years old on the alleged onset date - that is, a “younger individual” under the applicable regulations. (See AR 84, 166); see also 20 CFR § 404.1563. At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff was 52 years old and, therefore, considered a person “closely approaching advanced age.” (AR 43, 84.) After the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application initially (AR 49) and on reconsideration (AR 62), a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Mark B. Greenberg (“ALJ”). (AR 26-48, 76.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and Luis Mas, a vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the hearing. (See AR 26, 85.) On February 2, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. (AR 76-86.) On May 25, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 2-7.)


         Applying the five step evaluative process, the ALJ first found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 3, 2011, the alleged onset date. (AR 78.) The ALJ next determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1) degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; (2) trigger thumb; (3) arthroscopy of the right shoulder; (4) degenerative joint disease; (5) impingement of the left shoulder; and (6) history of carpal tunnel syndrome. (AR 78.) However, at step three of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. (AR 78.) The ALJ went on to find that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

perform light work . . . except the [Plaintiff] can lift, carry, push, and/or pull 15 pounds; she can frequently perform postural activities; she can occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she can occasionally overhead reach; she can frequently reach at or above shoulder level; she must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards; and she can frequently perform gross manipulation with the right upper extremity.

(AR 79.)

         The ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (AR 79.) At step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform the other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, including the following representative occupations: (1) lens gauger (DOT 716.687-030); (2) table worker (DOT 739.687-182); (3) ticket taker (DOT 344.667-010); and (4) swatch clerk (DOT 222.587-050). (AR 85.) Consequently, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from September 3, 2011, the alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision on February 2, 2015. (See AR 2, 85.)


         The parties' Joint Stipulation presents a single disputed issue: whether the ALJ properly considered the opinion from Dr. Neil Halbridge, Plaintiff's treating physician, that Plaintiff was precluded from repetitive overhead work bilaterally and, inter alia, repetitive work at or above shoulder level. (Joint Stip. at 4 and 7, citing AR 593 and 644.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘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.'” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). “Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for the Commissioner's, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination, ' or if despite ...

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