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Contreras v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 30, 2018

CECILIA RODRIGUEZ CONTRERAS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN L. STEVENSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         CECILIA RODRIGUEZ CONTRERAS (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on February 10, 2017, seeking review of the denial of her applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). (Dkt. No. 1.) The parties have consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 11-13.) On February 21, 2018, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation. (Dkt. No. 26 (“Joint Stip.”).) Plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and ordering the payment of benefits or, in the alternative, remanding for further proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 18-19.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or, in the alternative, remanded for further proceedings. (Id. at 19-20.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

         SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         On April 22, 2013, Plaintiff, who was born on January 27, 1958, filed applications for SSI and DIB. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 32, 262-75.) Plaintiff alleged disability commencing on November 11, 2010 due to a heart problem, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, heart surgery, a back injury, a fungal infection, a urinary tract infection, and lumbago. (AR 72, 88.) After the applications were denied initially (AR 104-05) and on reconsideration (AR 146-47), Plaintiff requested a hearing (AR 165-66). At a hearing held on July 8, 2015, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 45-71.) On August 12, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for SSI and DIB. (AR 32-39.) On December 13, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-3.)

         SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date and had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, and degenerative changes of the right knee. (AR 34.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any impairments listed in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments. (AR 36.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to lift 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday, occasionally kneel and squat, and sit with no limitations. (AR 36.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a hand cutter, as that occupation is generally performed in the national economy. (AR 38.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘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.'” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). “Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, we must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).

         Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for the Commissioner's, 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.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). 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, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination, ' or that, despite the legal error, ‘the agency's path may reasonably be discerned.'” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff alleges the following two errors: (1) the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of an examining psychologist, who limited Plaintiff to simple, repetitive tasks; and (2) the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a hand cutter because evidence in the record demonstrated she must avoid hazards. (Joint Stip. at 4.)

         As discussed below, the Court concludes that these issues do not warrant reversal of the ALJ's decision.

         I. Examining Psychologist's ...


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