United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
filed this action on February 1, 2017, seeking review of the
Commissioner's denial of his applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) payments. The parties
filed Consents to proceed before a Magistrate Judge on March
15, 2017, and April 13, 2017. Pursuant to the Court's
Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (alternatively
“JS”) on October 24, 2017, that addresses their
positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The
Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission
without oral argument.
was born on July 17, 1978. [Administrative Record
(“AR”) at 27, 213, 217.] He has past relevant
work experience as a security guard and as a forklift
operator. [AR at 27, 56.]
30, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for a period of
disability and DIB, and an application for SSI payments,
alleging that he has been unable to work since February 23,
2012. [AR at 19, 213, 217.] After his applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely
filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). [AR at 19, 121-23.] A hearing was
held on February 23, 2015, at which time plaintiff appeared
represented by an attorney, and testified on his own behalf.
[AR at 35-62.] A vocational expert (“VE”) also
testified. [AR at 56-60.] On July 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a disability
from February 23, 2012, the alleged onset date, through July
17, 2015, the date of the decision. [AR at 19-29.] Plaintiff
requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council. [AR at 15.] When the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review on January 10, 2017 [AR at
1-6], the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See Sam v. Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810
(9th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (citations omitted).
This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to
review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The
decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application
of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622
F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
evidence means 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.”
Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d
1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720
(9th Cir. 1998) (same). When determining whether substantial
evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision,
the Court examines the administrative record as a whole,
considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Mayes
v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001)
(citation omitted); see Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (“[A]
reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole
and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.”) (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). “Where evidence is susceptible to more
than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision
should be upheld.” Ryan, 528 F.3d at 1198
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see
Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir.
2006) (“If the evidence can support either affirming or
reversing the ALJ's conclusion, [the reviewing court] may
not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.”)
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or which has
lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A);
Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir.
THE 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.
§ 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, 966
F.2d at 1257. 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 February 23, 2012, the
alleged onset date. [AR at 21.] At step two, the ALJ
concluded that plaintiff has the following severe
[C]hronic, moderately displaced fractures of the lumbar
spine, status post-motor vehicle accident, degenerative joint
disease of the left knee, morbid obesity, chronic pain
syndrome, and depression and anxiety disorder.
[Id.] At step three, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals any of the
impairments in the Listing. [AR at 22.]
further found that plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a), 416.967(a),
[N]o engaging in climbing of ropes/ladders/scaffolds,
occasional climbing of stairs, bending, kneeling, stooping,
crouching and crawling, with the need to shift positions once
every hour while sitting. Also, he can understand, remember
and carry out simple instructions with occasional interaction
with co-workers/supervisors on an occasional and superficial
basis and adjust to changes in a routine work environment
consistent with previous limitations.
23.] At step four, based on plaintiff's RFC and the
testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is
unable to perform any of his past relevant work as a security
guard and as forklift operator. [AR at 27, 56-57.] At step
five, based on plaintiff's RFC, vocational factors, and
the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that there are jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy that
plaintiff can perform, including work as an
“addresser” (Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“DOT”) No. 209.587-010),
“document preparer” (DOT No. 249.587-018),
“touch-up screen[er], drive PC board” (DOT No.
726.684-110), and “stuffer” (DOT No.
731.685-014). [AR ...