United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING
ROSENBLUTH U.S. Magistrate Judge
seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying
her applications for Social Security disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
benefits (“SSI”). The parties consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge under
28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The matter is before the Court on
the parties' Joint Stipulation, filed December 5, 2017,
which the Court has taken under submission without oral
argument. For the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
was born in 1960. (Administrative Record (“AR”)
44, 54, 199.) She completed high school (AR 204) and worked
as a sales manager in a consignment store and an in-home
caretaker (AR 27-30, 37, 204, 228, 248).
November 20, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI,
alleging that she had been unable to work since October 15,
2013, because of fibromyalgia, nerve damage, sciatica,
“spinal issues, ” degenerative joint disease,
vascular veins, shoulder pain, lower-back and leg pain and
swelling, and “[f]oot problems.” (AR 44-45,
54-55, 159-61, 165-74, 203.) After her applications were
denied initially and on reconsideration (see AR
64-65, 74-81), she requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (AR 82-83). A hearing was held on
August 7, 2015, at which Plaintiff, who was represented by
counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert. (See
AR 23-43, 157.) In a written decision issued September 1,
2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 10-22.)
Plaintiff sought Appeals Council review (AR 5), which was
denied on March 6, 2017 (AR 1-4). This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's
findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of
legal error and supported by substantial evidence based on
the record as a whole. See id.; Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Parra v.
Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial
evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v.
Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more
than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.
Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035 (citing Robbins
v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)).
To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding,
the reviewing court “must review the administrative
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's
conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715,
720 (9th Cir. 1998). “If the evidence can reasonably
support either affirming or reversing, ” the reviewing
court “may not substitute its judgment” for the
Commissioner's. Id. at 720-21.
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or has lasted,
or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least
12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).
The Five-Step Evaluation Process
follows a five-step evaluation process to assess whether a
claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828
n.5 (9th Cir. 1995) (as amended Apr. 9, 1996). In the first
step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the
claimant is not disabled and the claim must be denied.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i).
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the
second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether
the claimant has a “severe” impairment or
combination of impairments significantly limiting her ability
to do basic work activities; if not, the claimant is not
disabled and her claim must be denied. §§
claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination
of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments set forth at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P,
appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does
not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth
step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the
claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform her past work; if so, she is
not disabled and the claim must be denied. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). The claimant has the
burden of proving she is unable to perform past relevant
work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant
meets that burden, a prima facie case of disability is
established. Id. If that happens or if the claimant
has no past relevant work, the Commissioner then bears the
burden of establishing that the claimant is not disabled
because she can perform other substantial gainful work
available in the national economy. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); Drouin, 966
F.2d at 1257. That determination comprises the fifth and
final step in the sequential analysis. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v); Lester, 81 F.3d
at 828 n.5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
The ALJ's Application of the Five-Step Process
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 15, 2013, the
alleged onset date. (AR 12.) At step two, he concluded that
Plaintiff had severe impairments of “lumbar
degenerative disc disease, spondylosis and varicose
veins.” (AR 12-13.) At step three, he determined that
Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal a listing.
(AR 13.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform a limited range of light work:
[She] can lift and/or carry no more than 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and sit, stand and/or
walk no more than six hours out of eight[, ] [but] [p]ushing
and/or pulling with either the upper or lower extremities is
unlimited other than for the weight limitations described[;]
[s]he can no more than occasionally climb ramps or stairs but
never ladders, ropes or scaffolds[;] and she can no more than
occasionally bend, stoop or kneel but is precluded from work
(AR 13-17.) Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work
as an “owner/manager of a thrift store.” (AR 17.)
Thus, he found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 17-18.)
argues that the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of
internist David L. Blinn, a treating physician. (J. Stip. at
3-7.) As discussed below, the ALJ properly evaluated the
medical-opinion evidence. Accordingly, remand is not