United States District Court, E.D. California
ALLISON CLAIRE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
reasons that follow, petitioner's motion for summary
judgment will be granted, and defendant's cross-motion
for summary judgment will be denied. The matter will be
reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for an immediate
award of benefits.
applied for disability insurance benefits and for
supplemental security income on January 10, 2013.
Administrative Record (“AR”) 19. The disability
onset date for both applications was alleged to be November
4, 2008. AR 19. The applications were disapproved initially
and on reconsideration. Id. On September 9, 2014,
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Carol A.
Eckerson presided over the hearing on plaintiff's
challenge to the disapprovals. AR 37 - 90 (transcript).
Plaintiff, who was present and testified at the hearing, was
represented by attorney Jeffrey L. Milam. AR 19. Bonnie
Drumwright, a Vocational Expert (“VE”), also
testified at the hearing. Id.
January 23, 2015, the ALJ found plaintiff “not
disabled” under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of Title XVI of
the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). AR 19-32
(decision), 33-36 (exhibit list). On June 16, 2016, after
receiving a representative brief by attorney Jeffrey Milam as
an additional exhibit, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's
decision as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security. AR 1-4 (decision and additional exhibit list).
filed this action on August 20, 2016. ECF No. 1; see
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties consented to the
jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. ECF Nos. 6, 8. The
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, based upon
the Administrative Record filed by the Commissioner, have
been fully briefed. ECF Nos. 14 (plaintiff's summary
judgment motion), 20 (Commissioner's summary judgment
motion), 21 (plaintiff's reply).
was born on May 29, 1963, and accordingly was 49 years old
when he filed his application. AR 30. Plaintiff has a limited
education and can communicate in English. AR 30.
Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled
will be upheld “if it is supported by substantial
evidence and if the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards.” Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart,
341 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2003). “‘The
findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . ..'”
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” but
“may be less than a preponderance.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “It
means 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 quotation marks omitted). “While inferences
from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only
those ‘reasonably drawn from the record' will
suffice.” Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063,
1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).
this court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the
Commissioner, 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.” Desrosiers v. Secretary of HHS,
846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); Jones v. Heckler,
760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (“The court must
consider both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion; it may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
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). “Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). However,
the court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in
his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground
upon which he did not rely.” Orn v. Astrue,
495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007); Connett v.
Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003) (“It
was error for the district court to affirm the ALJ's
credibility decision based on evidence that the ALJ did not
court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it
is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is
“clear from the record that an ALJ's error was
‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.'” Robbins v. Commissioner,
466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Stout v.
Commissioner, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006));
see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Security Income is available for every eligible individual
who is “disabled.” 42 U.S.C. § 1381a.
Plaintiff is “disabled” if he is
“‘unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment....'” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987) (quoting identically worded provisions
of 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A)).
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine whether an applicant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); Barnhart v.
Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24-25 (2003) (setting forth the
“five-step sequential evaluation process to determine
disability” under Title XVI). The following summarizes
the sequential evaluation:
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not,
proceed to step two.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b).
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe”
impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, the
claimant is not disabled.
Id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c).
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination
of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is
disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).
Step four: Does the claimant's residual functional
capacity make him capable of performing his past work? If so,
the claimant is not ...