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Pickering v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 23, 2018

PATRICIA VON PICKERING Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          KENDALL J. NEWMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Patricia Von Pickering seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act (“Act”).[1] In her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from December 31, 2007, through July 27, 2015. (ECF No. 14.) The Commissioner opposed plaintiff's motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 15.) No optional reply brief was filed.

         After carefully considering the record and the parties' briefing, the court DENIES plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on September 7, 1956; has a high school education and training as a medical assistant; can communicate in English; and previously worked as a medical assistant. (Administrative Transcript (“AT”) 43-44, 70-71.)[2] On June 5, 2012, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she became disabled on December 31, 2007, due to a seizure disorder, vision loss, memory loss, and general confusion. (AT 23, 70-71, 166, 171, 194.) After plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on April 30, 2015, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (AT 23, 39-55.) On July 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from December 31, 2007, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AT 23-32.) That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on October 12, 2016. (AT 1-3.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action on December 3, 2016, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (ECF No. 1.)

         II. ISSUES PRESENTED

         On appeal, plaintiff raises the sole issue of whether the case should be remanded for consideration of new evidence presented to the Appeals Council.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         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) (citation 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).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Summary of the ALJ's Findings

         The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB and SSI pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework.[3] As an initial matter, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act for purposes of DIB through December 31, 2012. (AT 25.) At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2007, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: seizure disorder, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and cataracts. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 26.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except she is able to lift/carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and is restricted from climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds and ...

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