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Patrick K.G. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 26, 2019

PATRICK K. G., [1] Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Patrick K. G. (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Commissioner's denial of his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


         On April 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for DIB alleging disability beginning January 11, 2013. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 524-27.) Plaintiff later amended his alleged onset date to December 7, 2014. (See AR 636.) His application was denied initially on September 11, 2015, and upon reconsideration on January 5, 2016. (AR 452, 460.) On January 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing, and a hearing was held on August 29, 2017. (AR 81, 467.) Represented by counsel, Plaintiff appeared and testified, along with an impartial vocational expert. (AR 83-113.) On September 12, 2017, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act, [2] since December 7, 2014. (AR 74-75.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1.) Plaintiff filed this action on June 29, 2018. (Dkt. No. 1.)

         The ALJ followed a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 7, 2014, the alleged onset date (“AOD”). (AR 63.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; osteoarthritis of the left knee; a history of rotator cuff syndrome; obesity; and sleep apnea. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (AR 65.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform medium work . . . except he can frequently climb stairs and ramps and occasionally climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. He can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He can have frequent exposure to conditions of extreme heat and pulmonary irritants such as dusts, odors, fumes and the like.

(AR 66.) At step four, based on Plaintiff's RFC and the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 72.) At step five, the ALJ found that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.” (AR 73.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from the AOD through the date of decision. (AR 74-75.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. A court must affirm an ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence and if the proper legal standards were applied. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001). “‘Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). An ALJ can satisfy the substantial evidence requirement “by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

         “[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Secretary's conclusion.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “‘Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation,' the ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)); see Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (“If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.”). The Court may 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.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003)).


         Plaintiff raises the following issues for review: (1) whether the RFC assessment is supported by substantial evidence; and (2) whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints. (See Joint Submission (“JS”) 4.) For the reasons below, the Court affirms.

         A. The ALJ Properly Evaluated Plaintiff's Subjective Complaints[3]

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's subjective testimony. (JS 13-14.) The Commissioner argues that the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons for discounting Plaintiff's complaints. (JS 14-19.)

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff last worked installing solar panels in 2013. (AR 89.) He injured his knee and back, and he could no longer do the job. (AR 90.) Plaintiff saw an orthopedic surgeon for pain management and therapy. (Id.) He was laid off or terminated from his job, but he still received medical care for five years. (Id.)

         Plaintiff drove himself to the hearing. (AR 88.) He lives in his own home with his wife, son, and grandson. (AR 91.) Plaintiff also has two houses, which he inherited from his parents, that he rents for income. (AR 91, 93.) Plaintiff writes a receipt when a tenant mails a check, and his son does the maintenance for the rental properties. (AR 92.) Plaintiff explained that he keeps the rent low as an incentive for tenants to take care of their own minor maintenance. (See AR 93.) Plaintiff hires a contractor for large jobs, such as plumbing. (AR 92.)

         Plaintiff testified that, according to his doctor, Plaintiff's blood pressure and cholesterol are high due to his weight. (AR 87-88.) Plaintiff's painkillers make it hard to lose weight. (AR 88.) Plaintiff also has sleep apnea, and he uses a CPAP machine. (AR 97.)

         Plaintiff stated that he has problems waking up because his medication makes him groggy. (AR 94.) He usually stays home with his wife or grandson. (Id.) Plaintiff's grandson, who is disabled, goes to school during the day. (AR 94-95.) When his grandson is home, Plaintiff gets him milk and changes his diapers. (AR 95.) Plaintiff explained that he does not need to lift his grandson, and when he changes his diapers, his grandson lifts his own feet up. (AR 105.)

         Plaintiff tries to do as much cooking, cleaning, laundry, and yard work as he can, but he is “discouraged now because [he] can't do it.” (AR 95.) He explained that his yard is overgrown. (AR 96.) Plaintiff needs help putting on his socks and shoes. (AR 104.)

         According to Plaintiff, his neurologist says that Plaintiff has nerve damage from his legs “all the way up.” (AR 96.) Plaintiff also has problems with his neck, back, and legs. (Id.) Plaintiff's knees give out, and he almost falls to the ground. (Id.) Plaintiff is receiving alignments, heat treatments, and electro stimulus for his back. (AR 99.) He was prescribed a brace for his left knee. (Id.) Plaintiff stated that he sometimes cannot pick up a cup of coffee because of the arthritis in his wrists. (AR 96.) Plaintiff also stated that he has hearing loss due to the equipment used when Plaintiff was a machinist and worked in construction. (AR 97.) Plaintiff explained that he cannot hear certain frequencies. (AR 105.) He has been prescribed hearing aids, but he cannot afford them. (Id.)

         Plaintiff testified that he can stand for about ten minutes before he needs to change position. (AR 103.) With medication, he can stand for a half hour to an hour, and he can sit for up to an hour. (AR 103-04.) According to Plaintiff, he can lift about ten pounds. (Id.)

         2. Plaintiff's Function Report

         Plaintiff submitted a Function Report in May 2015, which was written in the first person but was completed by a third party. (AR 593-601.) Plaintiff explained that he has severe pain in his lower back and left knee, which makes it painful for him to walk, stand, sit, bend, climb, or kneel. (AR 593.) Plaintiff also gets ...

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