United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. EARLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Mark Blaze (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint on
November 4, 2016 seeking review of a denial of his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner” or “Defendant”).
Pursuant to consents of the parties, the case has been
assigned to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for all
purposes. (Dkt. Nos. 17, 21, 22). Consistent with the Order
Re: Procedures in Social Security Appeal (Dkt. No. 9), the
parties filed a Joint Stipulation addressing their respective
positions. (Dkt. No. 27 (“Jt. Stip.”).)
Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission
without oral argument and as such, this matter is now ready
Standard of Review
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the
Commissioner's decision denying benefits 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)
(citations and internal punctuation omitted). The standard of
review of a decision by an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) is “highly deferential.”
Rounds v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 807 F.3d 996,
1002 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Section 405(g)
permits a court to enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The reviewing court may also remand the matter to the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) for
further proceedings. Id.
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). 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). “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); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679
(9th Cir. 2005) (court will uphold Commissioner's
decision when evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation). However, the Court may only review
the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability
determination, and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon
which the ALJ did not rely. Garrison v. Colvin, 759
F.3d 995, 1010 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted); see
also Orn, 495 F.3d at 630 (citation omitted).
even if an ALJ erred, a reviewing court will still uphold the
decision if the error was inconsequential to the ultimate
non-disability determination, or where, despite the error,
the ALJ's path “may reasonably be discerned,
” even if the ALJ explained the decision “with
less than ideal clarity.” Brown-Hunter v.
Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (citations,
internal punctuation omitted).
Standard for Determining Disability Benefits
the claimant's case has proceeded to consideration by an
ALJ, the ALJ conducts a five-step sequential evaluation to
determine at each step if the claimant is or is not disabled.
See Molina, 674 F.3d at 1110 (citing, inter
alia, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a)).
First, the ALJ considers whether the claimant currently
performs “substantial gainful activity.”
Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to a second step to
determine if the claimant has a “severe”
medically determinable physical or mental impairment or
combination of impairments that has lasted for more than 12
months. Id. If so, the ALJ proceeds to a third step
to determine if the claimant's impairments render the
claimant disabled because they “meet or equal”
any of the “listed impairments” set forth in the
Social Security regulations. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1; see also Rounds, 807 F.3d at 1001.
If the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a
“listed impairment, ” before proceeding to the
fourth step, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), that is, what the
claimant can do on a sustained basis despite the limitations
from her impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4); Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 96-8p. After determining the
claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to the fourth step and
determines whether the claimant has the RFC to perform her
past relevant work, either as she performed it when she
worked in the past, or as that same job is generally
performed in the national economy. See Stacy v.
Colvin, 825 F.3d 563, 569 (9th Cir. 2016) (citing,
inter alia, SSR 82-61); see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1560(b), 416.960(b).
claimant cannot perform her past relevant work, the ALJ
proceeds to a fifth and final step to determine whether there
is any other work, in light of the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience, that the claimant can perform
and that exists in “significant numbers” in
either the national or regional economies. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100-01 (9th Cir. 1999). If the
claimant can do other work, she is not disabled; if the
claimant cannot do other work and meets the duration
requirement, the claimant is disabled. See Tackett,
180 F.3d at 1099 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(3));
see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.960(b)(3).
claimant generally bears the burden at each of steps one
through four to show that she is disabled or that she meets
the requirements to proceed to the next step; the claimant
bears the ultimate burden to show that she is disabled.
See, e.g., Molina, 674 F.3d at 1110;
Johnson v. Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir.
1995). However, at step five, the ALJ has a
“limited” burden of production to identify
representative jobs that the claimant can perform and that
exist in “significant” numbers in the economy.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(c)(1)-(2),
416.960(c)(1)-(2); Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153,
1161 (9th Cir. 2012); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100.
BACKGROUND AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
was born on October 28, 1962. (Administrative Record
(“AR”) 168.) On September 16, 2013, Plaintiff
filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits, claiming
disability beginning May 23, 2012. (Id. at 183-93.)
After his applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration (id. at 115-25, 126-34), Plaintiff
requested an administrative hearing. (Id. at
149-50.) Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a
hearing before the ALJ on April 8, 2015. (Id. at
7, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits.
(Id. at 49-64.) At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff
had engaged in no substantial gainful activity since the
alleged onset date. (Id. at 54-55.) At step two, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: diabetes mellitus with neuropathy, cataracts in
his right eye, peripheral arterial disease, and bilateral
trigger finger. (Id. at 55.) At step three, the ALJ
found that neither the impairments nor combination of
impairments met or equaled a listed impairment. (Id.
at 56-57.) Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had an RFC to
perform light work with no more than frequent use of hands
bilaterally; occasional climbing of stairs and ramps; never
climbing ladders, scaffolds or ropes; and avoid exposure to
ordinary workplace hazards such as boxes on the floor, doors
ajar, unprotected heights, and moving machinery.
(Id. at 57.) At step four, the ALJ found that