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Jiminez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 27, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          SHERI PYM United States Magistrate Judge


         On February 12, 2016, plaintiff Luis Rafael Jiminez filed a complaint against defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), [1] seeking a review of a denial of a period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Both plaintiff and defendant have consented to proceed for all purposes before the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

         Plaintiff presents three issues for decision: (1) whether the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) properly considered plaintiff's credibility; (2) whether the ALJ properly considered the opinions of two lay witnesses; and (3) whether the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of the Complaint (“P. Mem.”) at 2; Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Answer (“D. Mem.”) at 2-10.

         Having carefully studied the parties' written submissions, the Administrative Record (“AR”), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ did not err. Consequently, the court affirms the decision of the Commissioner denying benefits.



         Plaintiff was thirty years old on his alleged disability onset date and completed the eleventh grade. AR at 51, 84. Plaintiff has no past relevant work. See id. at 35.

         On March 21 and 23, 2012, plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI due to severe chronic lower back pain, radiculopathy, depression, anxiety with panic attacks and social isolation, and degeneration of the lumbar spine.[2] See id. at 84, 95. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which he filed a request for a hearing. See id. at 126-30, 132-36.

         On March 13, 2014, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 42-81. The ALJ also heard testimony from Jane Hale, a vocational expert. Id. at 71-76. On March 28, 2014, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claims for benefits. Id. at 22-37.

         Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 30, 2009, the alleged onset date. Id. at 25.

         At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: minimal dextroconvex scoliosis of the lumbar spine and lumbago. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff's impairments, whether individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). Id. at 29-30.

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiff's RFC, [3] and determined he had the RFC to perform “essentially the full range of light work, ” with the limitations that plaintiff could: lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; no more than occasionally stoop, crouch, or crawl; and frequently climb, balance, and kneel. Id. at 30.

         The ALJ found, at step four, that plaintiff had no past relevant work. Id. at 35.

         At step five, the ALJ determined that, based upon plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, plaintiff could perform jobs “that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, ” including housekeeping cleaner, small products assembler, and marker. Id. at 36. Consequently, the ALJ concluded plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined by the Social Security Act (“SSA”). Id. at 37.

         Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. Id. at 1-3. The ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.


         This court is empowered to review decisions by the Commissioner to deny benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The findings and decision of the Social Security Administration must be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001) (as amended). But if the court determines that the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the findings and set aside the decision to deny benefits. Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001).

         “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Aukland, 257 F.3d at 1035. Substantial evidence is such “relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Mayes, 276 F.3d at 459. To determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's 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 ALJ's conclusion.” Mayes, 276 F.3d at 459. The ALJ's decision “‘cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Aukland, 257 F.3d at 1035 (quoting Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1998)). If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's decision, the reviewing court “‘may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.'” Id. (quoting Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir. 1992)).

         IV. ...

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