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 Social Security
Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-1383f. For the reasons that follow, the court
will grant plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and
deny the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary
judgment. The matter will be reversed and remanded to the
Commissioner for an immediate award of
applied for supplemental security income on October 2, 2012.
Administrative Record (“AR”) 12. The disability
onset date was alleged to be June 21, 2012. AR 12. The
application was disapproved initially and on reconsideration.
Id. On January 9, 2015, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Carol A. Eckersen presided over the
hearing on plaintiff's challenge to the disapproval. AR
34-85 (transcript). Plaintiff was present via videoconference
and testified at the hearing. AR 12, 36. Plaintiff was
represented by attorney David Edward Bartholomew at the
hearing. AR 34. Thomas C. Reed, a vocational expert, also
testified at the hearing. Id.
April 17, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
finding plaintiff “not disabled” under Section
1614(a)(3)(A) of Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). AR 12-29 (decision), 30-33 (exhibit list). On
August 2, 2016, 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 3-5
filed this action on October 29, 2016. ECF No. 1;
see 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383c(3). The
parties consented to the jurisdiction of the magistrate
judge. ECF Nos. 7, 8. The parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment, based upon the Administrative Record filed
by the Commissioner, have been fully briefed. ECF Nos. 15
(plaintiff's summary judgment motion), 18
(Commissioner's summary judgment motion), 21
was born in 1962, and accordingly was 50 years old when he
filed his application. AR 28. Plaintiff has at least a high
school education and can communicate in English. Id.
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. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 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 Cir. 2005).
Security Income is available for every eligible individual
who is “disabled.” 42 U.S.C. § 1381a.
Plaintiff is “disabled” if she 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 II and 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 ...