United States District Court, C.D. California
REBECCA L. SINGLETON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF
COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE
ALEXANDER F. MacKINNON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rebecca L. Singleton filed her application for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act
on May 29, 2013, alleging disability beginning October 10,
2010. After denial on initial review and on reconsideration,
a hearing took place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
on September 8, 2014. In a decision dated October 28, 2014,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act for the period from
October 10, 2010, through the date of the decision. The
Appeals Council declined to set aside the ALJ's
unfavorable decision in a notice dated May 16, 2016.
Plaintiff filed a Complaint herein on July 14, 2016, seeking
review of the Commissioner's denial of her application
accordance with the Court's Order Re: Procedures in
Social Security Appeal, the Plaintiff filed a memorandum in
support of the complaint on June 9, 2017; the Commissioner
filed a memorandum in support of her answer on July 14, 2017;
Plaintiff did not file a reply. This matter now is ready for
Whether the ALJ improperly evaluated the medical opinion
Whether the ALJ improperly rejected Plaintiff's testimony
regarding pain and function limitations.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the
Commissioner's decision to determine whether the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied.
See Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775
F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means
“more than a mere scintilla” but less than a
preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d
1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. This Court must review
the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that
supports and the evidence that detracts from the
Commissioner's conclusion. Lingenfelter, 504
F.3d at 1035. Where evidence is susceptible of more than one
rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must
be upheld. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th
FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential
evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir.
1995), as amended April 9, 1996. In the first step,
the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the
claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. If the claimant is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limiting his ability to do basic work
activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and
the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of
impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R.
part 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is
conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id.
If the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the
Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the claimant has sufficient “residual
functional capacity” to perform his past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). If the
claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of
disability is established. Id. The Commissioner then
bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not
disabled, because he can perform other substantial gainful
work available in the national economy. Id. The
determination of this issue comprises the fifth and final
step in the sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920; Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5;
Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 10, 2010, the
alleged onset date. (AR 13.) At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity;
rheumatoid arthritis with synovitis of hands, shoulders,
wrists, knees, and feet; fibromyalgia; degenerative joint
disease; lumbosacral neuropathy; possible rotator cuff tear
in the right shoulder. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ
found 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 14.) At step
four, the ALJ found that, from October 10, 2010 through
October 2, 2012, Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform light work, except
[Plaintiff] could stand and/or walk for up to six hours and
sit for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, could
occasionally climb stairs but never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; could occasionally balance, stoop, and crouch but
never kneel or crawl; and could can perform ...