United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
D. EARLY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Robert Kamal L. filed a Complaint on September 11, 2018,
seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). On June 6, 2019, the parties filed a
Joint Stipulation (“Jt. Stip.”), addressing their
respective positions. The Court has taken the Joint
Stipulation under submission without oral argument and as
such, this matter now is ready for decision.
January 5, 2015, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging
disability beginning June 30, 2013. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 77, 156. After his application was denied
(AR 77-92), Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing,
which was held on June 8, 2017. AR 47, 115. Plaintiff,
represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), as
did Heidi Paul, a vocational expert. AR 47-76.
October 18, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision finding
Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 15-25. The ALJ found Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June
30, 2013, the alleged onset date. AR 20. The ALJ determined
that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease and arthritis of the
lumbar spine; diabetes; sleep apnea; mild diabetic peripheral
neuropathy; joint dysfunction; and obesity. Id. The
ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed
impairment. AR 21. The ALJ also found Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work, with the following limitations: “no more
than frequently performing postural activities; and no
climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.” AR 22. The ALJ
determined Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant
work as a caregiver and security guard. AR 25. Accordingly,
the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a
“disability, ” as defined in the Social Security
filed a request with the Appeals Council for review of the
ALJ's decision (AR 154), which the Appeals Council
denied, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's
final decision. AR 1-4. This action followed.
Standard of Review
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may review a decision to
deny benefits. The ALJ's findings and decision should be
upheld if they are free from legal error and supported by
substantial evidence based on the record as a whole.
Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir.
2015) (as amended). Substantial evidence means such evidence
as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028,
1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance. Id. To determine whether
substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court
“must review the administrative record as a whole,
weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence
that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion.”
Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir.
1998). “If the evidence can reasonably support either
affirming or reversing, ” the reviewing court
“may not substitute its judgment” for that of the
Commissioner. Id. at 720-21; see also Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012) (“Even
when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, [the court] must uphold the ALJ's
findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn
from the record.”). However, a 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 v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th
Cir. 2007). Lastly, even when the ALJ commits legal error,
the Court upholds the decision where that error is harmless.
Molina, 674 F.3d at 1115. An error is harmless if it
is “inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination, ” or if “the agency's path may
reasonably be discerned, even if the agency explains its
decision with less than ideal clarity.”
Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492 (citation omitted).
Standard for Determining Disability Benefits
the claimant's case has proceeded to consideration by an
ALJ, the ALJ conducts a five-step sequential evaluation to
determine at each step if the claimant is or is not disabled.
See Molina, 674 F.3d at 1110.
the ALJ considers whether the claimant currently works at a
job that meets the criteria for “substantial gainful
activity.” Molina, 674 F.3d at 1110. If not,
the ALJ proceeds to a second step to determine whether the
claimant has a “severe” medically determinable
physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments
that has lasted for more than twelve months. Id. If
so, the ALJ proceeds to a third step to determine whether the
claimant's impairments render the claimant disabled
because they “meet or equal” any of the
“listed impairments” set forth in the Social
Security Regulations at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. See Rounds v. Comm'r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 807 F.3d 996, 1001 (9th Cir. 2015) (as amended).
If the claimant's impairments do not meet or equal a
“listed impairment, ” before proceeding to the
fourth step the ALJ assesses the claimant's RFC, that is,
what the claimant can do on a sustained basis despite the
limitations from his impairments. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4); Social Security Ruling 96-8p.
determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to the
fourth step and determines whether the claimant has the RFC
to perform his past relevant work, either as he
“actually” performed it when he worked in the
past, or as that same job is “generally”
performed in the national economy. See Stacy v.
Colvin, 825 F.3d 563, 569 (9th Cir. 2016). If the
claimant cannot perform his past relevant work, the ALJ
proceeds to a fifth and final step to determine whether there
is any other work, in light of the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience, that the claimant can perform
and that exists in “significant numbers” in
either the national or regional economies. See Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1100-01 (9th Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1560(c). If the claimant can do other work, he is
not disabled; but if the claimant cannot do other work and
meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
See id. at 1099.
claimant generally bears the burden at each of steps one
through four to show he is disabled, or he meets the
requirements to proceed to the next step; and the claimant
bears the ultimate burden to show he is disabled. See,
e.g., Molina, 674 F.3d at 1110; Johnson v.
Shalala, 60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995). However, at
Step Five, the ALJ has a limited burden of production to
identify representative jobs that the claimant can perform
and that exist in “significant” numbers in the
economy. See Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1161
(9th Cir. 2012); Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100.
parties present two disputed issues (Jt. Stip. at 2):
Issue No. 1: Whether the ALJ properly followed the
regulations in weighing the opinion evidence in this matter;
Issue No. 2: Whether the ALJ properly evaluated
Plaintiff's subjective complaints as required by the