United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF
DEFENDANT, NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
SECURITY, AND AGAINST PLAINTIFF ROSA FERNANDEZ
JENNIFER L. THURSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Fernandez asserts she is entitled to a period of disability,
disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security
income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff argues the administrative law judge erred in
evaluating the medical record and determining Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity. Because the ALJ applied the
proper legal standards and the decision is supported by
substantial evidence, the administrative decision is
January 2009, Plaintiff “filed a Title II application
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging disability beginning March 1, 2007.” (Doc.
12-5 at 8) The Social Security Administration denied her
application at the initial level and upon reconsideration.
(Id.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, and testified
before an ALJ on March 24, 2011. (Id.) The ALJ
determined Plaintiff was not disabled and issued an order
denying benefits on April 7, 2011, which became the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.
(Id. at 8-12)
February 2013, Plaintiff again filed applications for
benefits, in which she alleged disability beginning February
22, 2007. (See Doc. 12-3 at 16) However, Plaintiff
later “amended the alleged onset date to July 20, 2011
to follow the date of the previous Administrative Law Judge
decision and [her] 45th birthday.”
(Id.) The Social Security Administration denied her
applications at the initial level and upon reconsideration.
(See id.) Plaintiff requested a hearing on these
applications, and testified before an ALJ on March 11, 2015.
(Id. at 16; Doc. 12-4) The ALJ determined Plaintiff
was not disabled and issued an order denying benefits on May
28, 2015. (Id. at 13-23) Plaintiff filed a request
for review with the Appeals Council, which denied the request
on August 19, 2016. (Id. at 2-4) Therefore, the
ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff was not disabled became
the final decision of the Commissioner.
courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability
claims after a decision by the Commissioner to deny benefits
under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of
fact, such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The ALJ's determination that the
claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the
proper legal standards were applied and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510
(9th Cir. 1987).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. 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) (quoting Consol.
Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as
a whole must be considered, because “[t]he court must
consider both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion.” Jones v.
Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).
qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff
must establish he is unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to
have a disability only if:
his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work,
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The burden of proof is on a
claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan,
903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). If a claimant
establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to prove the claimant is able to
engage in other substantial gainful employment. Maounis
v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984).
achieve uniform decisions, the Commissioner established a
sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's
alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920(a)-(f). The process requires the ALJ to determine
whether Plaintiff (1) engaged in substantial gainful activity
during the period of alleged disability, (2) had medically
determinable severe impairments (3) that met or equaled one
of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether Plaintiff (4) had the
residual functional capacity to perform to past relevant work
or (5) the ability to perform other work existing in
significant numbers at the state and national level.
Id. The ALJ must consider testimonial and objective
medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 416.927.
Relevant Medical Evidence
January 6, 2012, Dr. De la Rosa reviewed the medical record
and noted Plaintiff had been diagnosed with degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar and cervical spine. (Doc. 12-10 at
72-76) According to Dr. De la Rosa, Plaintiff could lift and
carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand
and/or walk about six hours in an eight-hour day, and sit
about six hours in an eight-hour day. (Id. at 73) In
addition, Dr. De la Rosa determined Plaintiff could
occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds; occasionally crouch and crawl; and frequently
stoop, kneel, and balance. (Id. at 74) Dr. De la
Rosa opined Plaintiff was limited with her ability to reach,
but was unlimited with gross manipulation, fine manipulation,
and feeling. (Id.)
August 2012, Plaintiff underwent an MRI of her cervical
spine, which showed a “disc protrusion [that] resulted
in mod[erate] to severe foraminal stenosis.” (Doc.
12-12 at 3)
February 2013, Dr. Arturo Palencia, who worked at the Pain
Institute of Central California, noted Plaintiff's
medical history included an “unspecified type of
arthritis, ” rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and
anemia. (Doc. 12-12 at 4) Plaintiff continued to receive
treatment for her neck pain, which she described as
“constant and varie[d] in intensity.”
(Id. at 3) Dr. Palencia noted Plaintiff's
treatment history included “acupuncture, injections and
[p]hysical therapy.” (Id.) Plaintiff told Dr.
Palencia that “her pain would resolve for 2 months
following each injection.” (Id.) Dr. Palencia
determined Plaintiff had a “normal … [range of
motion], muscle strength and tone, and stability” in
her upper extremities. ...