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Freda G. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 20, 2019

FREDA G., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [2] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER

          ALEXANDER F. MacKINNON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Freda G., filed this action seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for supplemental security income benefits. In accordance with the Court's case management order, the parties have filed memorandum briefs addressing the merits of the disputed issues. The matter is now ready for decision.

         BACKGROUND

         On December 17, 2013, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability beginning April 9, 2011. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Administrative Record [“AR”] 60-69, 71-80.) A hearing took place on July 22, 2016 before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. (AR 32-59.)

         In a decision dated February 10, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, bipolar affective disorder, anxiety, obesity, hypertension, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, hypothyroidism, and a history of substance abuse disorder and alcohol dependence with a methamphetamine psychosis. (AR 17.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a limited range of light work. As relevant to Plaintiff's claims, the ALJ found Plaintiff was limited to frequent fine and gross manipulation bilaterally, was precluded from working around moving machinery or other hazards; and was precluded from forceful gripping or grasping bilaterally. (AR 17.) Relying upon the testimony of the VE, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 26.)

         The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review (AR 1-6), rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         DISPUTED ISSUES

         1. Whether the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's RFC with respect to her upper extremity impairments or was obligated to develop the record with regard to those impairments.

         2. Whether the ALJ failed to resolve a conflict between the VE's testimony and the DOT.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” but less than a preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. This Court must review the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035. Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

         DISCUSSION

         1. The ALJ's RFC Assessment.

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erroneously assessed her RFC. According to Plaintiff, the ALJ failed to properly consider the pertinent medical evidence regarding her upper extremity impairments and failed to satisfy her obligation to develop the record regarding those impairments. (ECF No. 22 at 3-5.)

         A. ...


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