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Singleton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

November 20, 2017

REBECCA L. SINGLETON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          ALEXANDER F. MacKINNON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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 for benefits.

         In 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 decision.

         II. DISPUTED ISSUES

         1. Whether the ALJ improperly evaluated the medical opinion evidence; and

         2. Whether the ALJ improperly rejected Plaintiff's testimony regarding pain and function limitations.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 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 Cir. 2007).

         IV. FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

         The 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.

         V. THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS

         At step 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 ...

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