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Quintana v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 7, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         In November of 2012, Plaintiff Mark Quintana applied for Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security income benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner of Social Security denied the applications.[1] Plaintiff, represented by the Law Offices of Lawrence D. Rohlfing, Young Cho, Esq., of counsel, commenced this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g) and 1383 (c)(3).

         The parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 12, 13, 24). On January 5, 2018, this case was referred to the undersigned pursuant to General Order 05-07. (Docket No. 23).


         Plaintiff applied for benefits on November 7, 2012 and November 8, 2012, alleging disability beginning March 29, 2007. (T at 214-15, 218-26).[2] The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On May 12, 2015, a hearing was held before ALJ Joan Ho. (T at 36). Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified.[3] (T at 43-62, 68-69, 70-71, 76-77). The ALJ also received testimony from Joseph Henry Torres, a vocational expert (T at 63-68, 69-70, 72-75, 77-78).

         On June 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying the application for benefits. (T at 16-35). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on November 10, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 1-6).

         On January 7, 2017, Plaintiff, acting by and through his counsel, filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket No. 1). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on June 7, 2017. (Docket No. 16). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on November 2, 2017. (Docket No. 22).

         After reviewing the pleadings, Joint Stipulation, and administrative record, this Court finds that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and this case be remanded for further proceedings.


         A. Sequential Evaluation Process

         The Social Security Act (“the Act”) defines disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act also provides that a claimant shall be determined to be under a disability only if any impairments are of such severity that he or she is not only unable to do previous work but cannot, considering his or her age, education and work experiences, engage in any other substantial work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). Thus, the definition of disability consists of both medical and vocational components. Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Step one determines if the person is engaged in substantial gainful activities. If so, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404. 1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If not, the decision maker proceeds to step two, which determines whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii).

         If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the disability claim is denied. If the impairment is severe, the evaluation proceeds to the third step, which compares the claimant's impairment(s) with a number of listed impairments acknowledged by the Commissioner to be so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpt. P App. 1. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is conclusively presumed to be disabled. If the impairment is not one conclusively presumed to be disabling, the evaluation proceeds to the fourth step, which determines whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing work which was performed in the past. If the claimant is able to perform previous work, he or she is deemed not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At this step, the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) is considered. If the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the fifth and final step in the ...

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