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Wiles v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

November 8, 2017

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




         Plaintiff Carolyn Ann Wiles (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint seeking review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The parties filed consents to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge [Dkts. 10, 24] and briefs addressing disputed issues in the case [Dkt. 19 (“Pltf.'s Br.”) and Dkt. 20 (“Def.'s Br.”), Dkt. 21 (“Pltf.'s Reply).] The Court has taken the parties' briefing under submission without oral argument. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that this matter should be remanded for further proceedings.


         On January 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB. [Dkt. 13, Administrative Record (“AR”) 17, 165-173.] Plaintiff also filed an application for SSI on January 31, 2013. [Id.; 155-164] The Commissioner denied her initial claims for benefits on June 7, 2013, and upon reconsideration on September 27, 2013. [Id.] On May 18, 2015, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Mary L. Everstein. [AR 32-62.] On June 23, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's request for benefits. [AR 17-31.] Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which denied review on November 2, 2016. [AR 1-6.]

         Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(g)(1); 416.920(b)-(g)(1). At step one, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 17, 2012, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2016, her date last insured. [AR 19.] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: history of right shoulder acromioplasty with rotator cup repair; scoliosis; depression; anxiety; headaches; and chronic neck and back sprain/strain. [Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).] Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. [AR 22 (citing 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).]

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

[M]edium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except for no more than occasional climbing [of] ladders, stooping, crouching, and crawling; and performing no more than simple routine tasks with limited public contact, such as no more than superficial, incidental contact.

[AR 23.] Applying this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work, but determined that based on her age (46 years old), limited education, and ability to communicate in English, she could perform representative occupations such as hand packager (Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) 920.587-018), laundry worker (DOT 361.685-018), and assembler (DOT 706.684-022) and, thus, is not disabled. [AR 26.]


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citation and quotations omitted); see also Hoopai, 499 F.3d at 1074.


         Four physicians rendered opinions about Plaintiff's mental limitations. On April 13, 2013, Dr. Gary A. Bartell, M.D., a consultative examiner retained by the state agency, examined Plaintiff and prepared a report with his opinion. [See AR 457-461.] On March 5, 2015, Dr. David Samson, M.D., a treating physician, rendered his opinion. [AR 660-663.] Two, non-examining state agency consultants, Dr. Heather Barrons, Psy.D., and Dr. Harvey Bilik, Psy.D., also rendered opinions on June 7, 2013 and September 24, 2013, respectively. [AR 63-90; 93-118.] Plaintiff argues that the opinions of Dr. Bartell and Dr. Samson were improperly rejected by the ALJ. [Pltf.'s Br. at 6.] The Court will address each contention in turn.

         A. Dr. ...

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