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Ayala v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

November 17, 2017

WILBERT AYALA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN L. STEVENSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint on January 10, 2017, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision granting Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and denying Plaintiff's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (See Dkt. No. 1.) On February 27, 2017, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 11, 12.) On November 14, 2017, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) (Dkt. No. 22) in which plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and either ordering the payment of benefits or remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings (Joint Stip. at 16). The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or remanded for further proceedings. (See Id. at 17-18.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

         SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         In November 2012, Plaintiff, who was born on September 2, 1969, filed applications for SSI, a period of disability, and DIB alleging disability commencing December 22, 2001, due to: “herniated disk 13 14 back fussion back stimulator implant.”[2] (See Joint Stip. at 2; Administrative Record (“AR”) 25, 125, 127, 152) (errors in original). These were Plaintiff's second applications for SSI, a period of disability, and DIB alleging disability commencing December 22, 2001. In 2010, Plaintiff had filed his first round of applications for SSI and DIB, which the Commissioner denied initially on December 2, 2010. (AR 25; see also AR 56.) Plaintiff had not sought reconsideration of the initial denial of his 2010 applications (AR 25, 56), although he testified at the April 27, 2015 hearing that he “filled out the paperwork” to do so (AR 46-47).

         The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's 2012 applications initially. (AR 55.) On June 28, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing. (AR 78.) On April 27, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Edward P. Schneeberger (“ALJ”) held a hearing. (AR 38.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and Heidi Paul, the vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the hearing. (AR 38-53.) On May 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, denying Plaintiff's application for DIB and granting Plaintiff's application for SSI. (AR 25-33.) On November 10, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-7.)

         SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2006 and, therefore, did not meet the insured status requirements on December 3, 2010, “the day after his administratively final and binding initial determination” on Plaintiff's 2010 Title II application for DIB. (AR 28.) On that basis, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's 2012 Title II application for a period of disability and DIB. (Id.)

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after November 30, 2012, the date of his application for SSI. (AR 28.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative changes of the lumbar spine and status post lumbar spine surgery. (AR 28.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any impairments listed in 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, 416.926). (Id. 29.) The ALJ determined that, as of November 30, 2012, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do the following: “1) stand for no more than fifteen to thirty minutes; 2) sit for no more than one hour; and 3) lift no more than ten pounds.” (AR 30.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a tow truck operator (DOT 919.663-026). (AR 31.) The ALJ further concluded that, given Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (AR 32.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 30, 2012, the date of his 2012 application for SSI, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. 32.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). “Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for the Commissioner's, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination, ' or if despite ...


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