United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
PYM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
26, 2016, plaintiff Efran Cornejo Sanchez filed a complaint
against defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”),  seeking a review
of a denial of period of disability and disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). Both parties 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.
presents three issues for decision: (1) whether the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) properly
considered and rejected the opinion of Dr. George Watkin, an
examining physician; (2) whether the ALJ's step four
determination is supported by substantial evidence; and (3)
whether the ALJ failed to evaluate plaintiff's back
impairment after July 2013. Memorandum in Support of
Plaintiff's Complaint (“P. Mem.”) at 3-18.
carefully studied the parties' written submissions, the
decision of the ALJ, and the Administrative Record
(“AR”), the court concludes that, as detailed
herein, the ALJ erred in failing to explicitly reject Dr.
Watkin's opinion, and also erred at step four, although
the step four error was harmless. In light of the error with
Dr. Watkin's opinion, the court remands this matter to
the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and
instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
who was fifty-four years old on his alleged disability onset
date, completed the third or fourth grade. AR at 34-35, 160.
He has past relevant work as a landscaper. Id. at
10, 2012, plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging he has been disabled since May 14, 2010 due to torn
ligaments or tendons in his left arm, a torn left shoulder
(rotator cuff), a torn right knee, and a torn right rotator
cuff. Id. at 160, 164. The Commissioner denied
plaintiff's application, after which he filed a request
for reconsideration, which was denied. Id. at 88-92,
96, 98-102. Plaintiff then filed a request for a hearing.
Id. at 104.
19, 2014, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and
testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 34-63.
At the hearing, the ALJ also heard testimony from Troy Scott,
a vocational expert (“VE”). Id. at
54-60. On June 16, 2014, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim
for benefits. Id. at 15-27.
the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the
ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 14, 2010, the alleged
onset date. Id. at 20.
two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: lumbar spine strain, left shoulder
residual impingement syndrome status post arthroscopic
surgery, left elbow/forearm tendosis status post bicep/tendon
repair surgery, and right knee patellofemoral pain syndrome
status post arthroscopic surgery. Id.
three, the ALJ found plaintiff's impairments, whether
individually or in combination, did not meet or medically
equal the severity of one of the listed impairments set forth
in 20 C.F.R. part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the
“Listings”). Id. at 22.
then assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”),  and determined that plaintiff had the RFC
to perform medium work, with the limitations that he can:
perform postural maneuvers on a frequent basis; only
occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently
reach overhead with his dominant right upper extremity; and
frequently reach, handle, and finger with his left upper
extremity. Id. at 22-23. In addition, he has to
avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. Id. at 22.
found, at step four, that plaintiff was capable of performing
past relevant work as a landscaper. Id. at 26.
Consequently, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not suffer
from a disability as defined by the Social Security Act.
Id. at 27.
filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision,
which was denied by the Appeals Council. Id. at
8-12. After receiving additional evidence, the Appeals
Council again denied plaintiff's request for review.
Id. at 1-6.
ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the
court is empowered to review decisions by the Commissioner to
deny benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The findings and
decision of the Commissioner 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).
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 ...