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Carroll v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California, Southern Division

May 10, 2018

CHRIS LEE CARROLL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL L. ABRAMS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I.

         PROCEEDINGS

         Plaintiff filed this action on April 20, 2017, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before a Magistrate Judge on May 8, 2017, and May 19, 2017. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (alternatively “JS”) on February 20, 2018, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

         II.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on December 25, 1969. [Administrative Record (“AR”) at 39, 198, 205.] For purposes of his application for DIB, he has past relevant work experience as a shipping and receiving clerk, telephone solicitor, and office machine servicer; he has no past relevant work for purposes of his application for SSI payments. [AR at 38, 39, 75-76.]

         On October 9, 2013, plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability and DIB, and an application for SSI payments, alleging that he has been unable to work since May 1, 2003.[1] [AR at 198-204, 205-08.] After his applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). [AR at 152-53.] A hearing was held on July 8, 2015, at which time plaintiff appeared represented by an attorney, and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 48-80.] A medical expert (“ME”) and a vocational expert (“VE”) also testified. [AR at 61-67, 74-79.] On August 5, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a disability from May 1, 2003, the alleged onset date, through August 5, 2015, the date of the decision. [AR at 29-41.] Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. [AR at 17-20.] When the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on February 22, 2017 [AR at 4-8], the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sam v. Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (citations omitted). This action followed.

         III.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622 F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

         “Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d 648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). “Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, the Court “must consider the entire record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.” Id. (quoting Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Court will “review only the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 87, 63 S.Ct. 454, 87 L.Ed. 626 (1943) (“The grounds upon which an administrative order must be judged are those upon which the record discloses that its action was based.”).

         IV.

         THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

         Persons 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 which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Garcia v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 768 F.3d 925, 930 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)).

         A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

         The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)). 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 is denied. Lounsburry, 468 F.3d at 1114. If the claimant is not currently 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 his ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and the claim is denied. Id. If the 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 (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R. § 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id. If the 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” to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). If the claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of disability is established. Id. The Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not disabled because there is ...


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