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Ayala v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

November 9, 2017

CUAUHTEMOC FLORENTINO AYALA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          FREDERICK F. MUMM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration[1] denying his application for disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff and defendant consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pursuant to the August 22, 2016, Case Management Order, on May 8, 2017, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“JS”) detailing each party's arguments and authorities. The Court has reviewed the administrative record (the “AR”), filed on January 17, 2017, and the Joint Stipulation. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed and this matter is remanded for further proceedings.

         PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         On or about June 14, 2013, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability as of January 1, 2008. After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). On December 18, 2014, ALJ Christine Long held a hearing. (AR 28-54.) Plaintiff was present with counsel and testified at the hearing.

         On March 3, 2015, the ALJ denied plaintiff benefits in a written decision. (AR 12-27.) Therein, the ALJ reported that in 2003 plaintiff had been involved in a boating accident that resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee, for which plaintiff received a prosthesis. Additionally, the ALJ accurately noted that the record in this case contains virtually no medical records documenting the treatment plaintiff presumably received for his leg injury. Based on her review of the scant evidence in the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff possesses the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “light work” subject to numerous accompanying limitations. (AR 20.) In determining plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ assigned little weight to certain opinions of Dr. Ibrahim Yashruti, an examining physician and the only physician to render an opinion about plaintiff's physical limitations. (AR 21.) Ultimately, the ALJ found that plaintiff is able to perform his past relevant work and, therefore, is not disabled.

         On June 13, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision. Thereafter, plaintiff initiated this action.

         CONTENTIONS

         Plaintiff raises the following contention in this action:

         1. Whether the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinions of Dr. Ibrahim Yashruti, an examining physician.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Administration's decisions to determine if: (1) the Administration's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Administration used proper legal standards. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, “a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.” Auckland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         If the evidence in the record can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Flaten v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). However, even if substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be reversed if the proper legal standard was not applied. Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1014-15 (9th Cir. 2003); see also Smolen, 80 F.3d at 1279.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Yashruti on September 30, 2013. (AR 333-36.) Based on the examination, Dr. Yashruti concluded, among other things, that plaintiff can stand or walk for only two hours each work-day and can not kneel, crouch, or crawl. (AR 336.) In her decision ...


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