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Kuts v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 22, 2018

BRAEDON MICHELLE KUTS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          CAROLYN K. DELANEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). For the reasons discussed below, the court will deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grant the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, born June 7, 1982, applied on October 23, 2012 for SSI, alleging disability beginning May 30, 2011. Administrative Transcript (“AT”) 192-194. Plaintiff alleged she was unable to work due to migraines, arm problems, and depression. AT 126. In a decision dated April 13, 2015, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled.[1] AT 18-29. The ALJ made the following findings (citations to 20 C.F.R. omitted):

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 30, 2011, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: right cubital tunnel syndrome; carpal tunnel syndrome (right) status post-surgery; bilateral overuse syndrome; mild carpal tunnel syndrome (left); migraines; and depression.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work, except she can frequently push and pull with the upper extremities. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She can occasionally handle and finger with upper extremities. She can have no more than occasional typing on a keyboard. She can understand, remember, and carry out simple job instructions. She can maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for simple job tasks. She can interact appropriately with supervisors, coworkers, and the public.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born on June 7, 1982 and was 28 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date.
8. The claimant has at least a high-school education and is able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is ‘not disabled' whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 30, 2011, through the date of this decision.

AT 20-29.

         ISSUES PRESENTED

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed the following errors in finding plaintiff not disabled: (1) the ALJ improperly weighed the medical evidence; (2) the ALJ improperly rejected plaintiff's testimony; (3) the ALJ improperly rejected lay witness testimony; and (4) the ALJ's hypothetical question to the vocational expert was invalid.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). “The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

         The record as a whole must be considered, Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1487 (9th Cir. 1986), and both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion weighed. See Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). The court may not affirm the ALJ's decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Id.; see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a finding of either disability or nondisability, the finding of the ALJ is conclusive, see Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, ...


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