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Entrocaso v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 22, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.




         Plaintiff, Michelle Entrocasco (“Plaintiff”), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs which were submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.[2] (See, Docs. 23 and 25). Upon a review of the entire record, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court AFFIRMS the agency's disability determination and DENIES Plaintiff's appeal.


         A. Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI alleging she was disabled beginning January 1, 2012, due to asthma and scoliosis. AR 86-96; 107. The parties agree that the Plaintiff properly exhausted her administrative remedies and that the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's appeal. (Doc. 23, pg. 2 and Doc. 25, pg. 2). Therefore, this appeal is a review of Administrative Law Judge Andrew Verne's (“ALJ”) decision issued on April 10, 2015, which is considered the Commissioner's final order. See, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). AR 12-20.

         B. Summary of the Medical Record

         The Court has reviewed the entire medical record. Relevant portions of the record will be referenced in the discussion where appropriate. AR 161-238.


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ: (1) improperly concluded that her degenerative disc disease was a non-severe impairment at step two; (2) failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's testimony; and (3) committed legal error by not addressing the testimony of several lay witnesses. (Doc. 23, pgs. 12-20). She requests that the case be remanded for further consideration of these issues. (Doc. 23, pgs. 12-20). In opposition, the Commissioner argues that the ALJ: 1) properly found Plaintiff's disc disease was a non-severe impairment; 2) properly discounted Plaintiff's testimony; and 3) any errors committed in failing to address lay witness testimony are harmless because Plaintiff has not produced any testimony that would have altered the outcome of the ALJ's decision. As such, the ALJ's decision should be affirmed. (Doc. 25, pgs. 13).


         To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, a plaintiff must establish that he or she 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 twelve 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).

         To achieve uniformity in the decision-making process, the Commissioner has established a sequential five-step process for evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). The ALJ proceeds through the steps and stops upon reaching a dispositive finding that the claimant is or is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The ALJ must consider objective medical evidence and opinion testimony. 20 C.F.R. § 416.913.

         Specifically, the ALJ is required to determine: (1) whether a claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged disability; (2) whether the claimant had medically-determinable “severe” impairments; (3) whether these impairments meet or are medically equivalent to one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) whether the claimant retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past relevant work[4]; and (5) whether the claimant had the ability to perform other jobs existing in significant numbers at the regional and national level. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).


         Using the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 16, 2012. AR 14. At step two, the ALJ identified scoliosis and asthma as severe impairments, however he also determined that Plaintiff's mild diffuse bulging disc, substance addition, and depression were not severe impairments. AR 14-16. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listing impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404 P, Appendix 1. AR 16. However, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to: lift and carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; sit, stand, and walk for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday; and frequently climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and scaffolds; in addition, she could balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. AR16-20. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible. AR 16-18.

         Given the above, at step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a housekeeper. AR 19-20. Alternatively, at step five, the ALJ considered the testimony of a vocational expert and concluded that other jobs also existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including working as a dishwasher, a laundry worker, and a hospital housekeeper. AR 20. The ALJ therefore concluded Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 20.


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is supported by substantial evidence, and (2) it applies the correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007).

         “Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). It is “relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational ...

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