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Keys v. Berryhill

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 31, 2018

YVETTE KEYS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         YVETTE KEYS (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on April 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. 11-12, 20.) On January 3, 2018, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation. (Dkt. No. 21 (“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 23.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or, in the alternative, remanded for further proceedings. (Id. at 24.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.


         On February 13, 2014, Plaintiff, who was born on August 2, 1966, filed applications for SSI and DIB. (AR 25, 150-64.) Plaintiff alleged disability commencing on October 16, 2011 due to strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure, and bipolar disorder. (AR 58-59, 73-74.) After the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's applications (AR 72, 87), Plaintiff requested a hearing (AR 99-102). At a hearing held on September 15, 2015, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) heard testimony from Plaintiff, two medical experts, and a vocational expert (“VE”). (AR 41-57.) On October 14, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying Plaintiff's applications for SSI and DIB. (AR 25-34.) On February 9, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-3.)


         The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her October 16, 2011 alleged onset date and that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, history of strokes with left hemiparesis, dysthymia, and cognitive disorder. (AR 27.) 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 28-30.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except she was precluded from climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; precluded from working at hazards or unprotected heights; and limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple, repetitive tasks. (AR 30.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a cashier and fast food worker. (AR 33.) In the alternative, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing other work in the national economy, specifically, the jobs of fund raiser II and survey worker. (AR 34.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id.)


         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, 1111 (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).


         Plaintiff alleges the following three errors: (1) the ALJ erred at step four in classifying Plaintiff's past relevant work under the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”); (2) the ALJ erred at step five because of conflicts with the DOT; and (3) the ALJ erred in assessing Plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity. (Joint Stip. at 4.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that these issues do not warrant reversal of the ALJ's decision.

         I. Past Relevant ...

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