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Hall v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

September 7, 2017

THERESA HALL, Plaintiff,


          EDWARD J. DAVILA, United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Theresa L. Hall (“Plaintiff”) initiated this action to appeal the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant”) terminating disability benefits. The parties cross-move for summary judgment. Plaintiff contends that there is a lack of substantial evidence to support the cessation of benefits, and accordingly requests reversal and remand to reinstate benefits. In the alternative, Plaintiff requests a remand for further evaluation of her disability status. Defendant requests that the Court affirm the final decision, or in the alternative remand for further administrative proceedings. Having considered the motion papers and the administrative record, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and Defendant's motion is granted.


         Plaintiff was born September 14, 1963. At the time of her established onset of disability in April of 2005, Plaintiff was forty-one years old. In September of 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) granted Plaintiff's application on April 27, 2007, based upon a finding that Plaintiff had disc herniation with radiculopathy and stenosis of the cervical spine that rendered her disabled. The ALJ determined that these impairments resulted in the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, as defined at 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a), with a limitation to occasional extension, flexion and rotation of the neck, occasional bending, squatting, crouching, crawling and kneeling, and occasional fine and gross manipulation bilaterally. Further, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “is precluded from overhead work and would experience occasional difficulties with concentration, persistence or pace.” AR 109. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work as a waitress and culinary manager and was unable to perform other work available in the national economy.

         In approximately April of 2011, the Social Security Administration found that Plaintiff's condition had improved to such an extent that Plaintiff was able to perform light work as of June 1, 2011, and therefore Plaintiff was no longer eligible for disability benefits. In November of 2011, a Disability Hearing Officer heard Plaintiff's case and affirmed the cessation of benefits. Plaintiff appeared before an ALJ in January of 2013 and again in December of 2013. In a decision dated January 14, 2014, the ALJ also found that Plaintiff's disability eligibility ceased on June 1, 2011. In pertinent part, the ALJ found that the medical records supported a finding that as of June 1, 2011, Plaintiff had experienced a decrease in the medical severity of her impairments. Next, after considering the entire record, the ALJ made findings with respect to Plaintiff's RFC. The ALJ identified Plaintiff's medically determinable physical impairments and concluded that those impairments could reasonably have been expected to produce Plaintiff's symptoms. AR 18. The ALJ, however, found that Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible because of “claimant's inconsistent reports of symptoms; the long gap in the treatment record between 2007 and 2011; the claimant's admitted very limited need for prescribed pain medication for much of the treatment record; the claimant's expressed lack of motivation to work; the claimant's lack of motivation to cease smoking and abusing alcohol; the claimant's non-compliance; the non-corroborative clinical findings; the non-corroborative diagnostic findings; and the claimant's activities of daily living.” AR 18. Further, the ALJ found in pertinent part that Plaintiff's medical improvement was related to the ability to work because it resulted in an increase in Plaintiff's RFC, and that as of June 1, 2011, Plaintiff was able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. AR 20. The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g).


         The court has authority to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). When conducting such review, § 405(g) provides that “[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....” Accordingly, the district court's jurisdiction is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record, and reversal is only appropriate where it is not supported by substantial evidence or the decision is based on legal error. See Vertigan v. Halter, 260 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 2001) (“We uphold the Commissioner's decision denying benefits if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard and there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the decision.”). “Substantial evidence” is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). The key inquiry is whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached by the Commissioner. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 381, 401 (1971); Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982). Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, it is the Commissioner's conclusion which must be upheld. Rhinehart v. Finch, 438 F.2d 920, 921 (9th Cir. 1971). Moreover, in rendering findings, the Commissioner is entitled to draw inferences logically flowing from the evidence. See Beane v. Richardson, 457 F.2d 758 (9th Cir. 1972).


         Title 42 U.S.C. §423(f) defines the circumstances under which disability benefits will cease, and provides in pertinent part:

A recipient of benefits under this subchapter or subchapter XVIII of this chapter based on the disability of any individual may be determined not to be entitled to such benefits on the basis of a finding that the physical or mental impairment on the basis of which such benefits are provided has ceased, does not exist, or is not disabling only if such finding is supported by-
(1) substantial evidence which demonstrates that--
(A) there has been any medical improvement in the individual's impairment or combination of impairments (other than medical improvement which is not related to the ...

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