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Lopez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 22, 2018

ANA LOPEZ, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GAIL J. STANDISH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Ana Lopez (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The parties filed consents to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge [Dkts. 10 and 11] and briefs addressing disputed issues in the case [Dkt. 17 (“Pltf.'s Br.”), Dkt. 18 (“Def.'s. Br.”), and Dkt. 19 (“Pltf.'s Reply)]. The Court has taken the parties' briefing under submission without oral argument. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that this matter should be remanded for further proceedings.

         II. ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION UNDER REVIEW

         In September 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of August 15, 2013. [Dkt. 16, Administrative Record (“AR”) 186, 188.] Plaintiff's applications were denied at the initial level of review and on reconsideration. [AR 124, Def's Br. at 2] On May 12, 2015, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge James P. Nguyen (“the ALJ”). [AR 24.] On March 4, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. [AR 24-31.]

         Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b)-(g)(1), 416.920(b)-(g)(1). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. [AR 27.] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical and thoracic spine; strain of the cervical and thoracic spine, left knee strain; dyslipidemia; left shoulder tendinitis; a history of carpal tunnel syndrome; and a history of carcinoma of the thyroid gland, status post thyroidectomy. [Id.] At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the impairments listed in Appendix I of the Regulations, (“the Listings”). [AR 28]; see 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b)) with the following additional nonexertional limitations:

[Plaintiff is] able to climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds occasionally; otherwise, able to perform frequent climbing for ramps and stairs, as well as frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; able to perform occasional overhead reaching; and able to perform frequent handling and fingering with the upper extremities.

[AR 28.] Applying this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as an electronic assembler, and was, thus, not disabled. [AR 30-31.]

         The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on January 25, 2017. [AR 1-4.] This action followed.

         III. GOVERNING STANDARD

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used correct legal standards. Carmickle v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citation and quotations omitted); see also Hoopai, 499 F.3d at 1074.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) finding that Plaintiff did not meet a listing at step three, and (2) improperly discrediting Plaintiff's testimony. [Pltf.'s Br. at 1.] As set forth below, the Court agrees with Plaintiff, in part, and remands the matter for further proceedings. Because the Court finds Plaintiff's second argument regarding her credibility compelling, this memorandum does not deal with Plaintiff's contention that the ALJ improperly found that none of her impairments met a listing. However, the ALJ should consider this issue on remand.

         A. ALJ Failed to Properly Consider Plaintiff's ...


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