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Huascar V. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division

July 8, 2019

HUASCAR V., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [2] Commissioner for Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John D. Early United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Huascar V. (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on September 27, 2018, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Jt. Stip.”) regarding the issues in dispute on April 29, 2019. The matter now is ready for decision.

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his application for SSI on August 3, 2015, alleging disability commencing on July 1, 2014. Administrative Record (“AR”) 46. After his application was denied (AR 64-69), Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing (AR 70-72), which was held on September 26, 2017 (AR 30-44). Plaintiff, represented by an attorney, appeared and testified at the hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 32-39.

         On December 27, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 15-26. The ALJ found Plaintiff: (i) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 3, 2015; (ii) suffered from severe impairments of status post bilateral hand surgery, obesity, and gastroesophageal reflux disease; (iii) did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment; and (iv) had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work except:

[H]e can lift 10 pounds both frequently and occasionally, sit for six hours of an eight-hour workday, stand and/or walk for six hours of an eight-hour workday, perform postural movements occasionally, push and pull with the upper extremities occasionally, and would be limited to occasional fine and gross manipulation of the upper extremities.

AR 20-22. The ALJ found Plaintiff was incapable of performing his past relevant work as a kitchen helper, stock clerk, or ride attendant; but, given Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, Plaintiff could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. AR 24-25. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a “disability, ” as defined in the Social Security Act. AR 25.

         On July 31, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-6.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Standard of Review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review a decision to deny benefits. An ALJ's decision should be upheld if it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence. Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (as amended); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means 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). 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.”). Lastly, even if an ALJ errs, the decision will be affirmed where such error is harmless (Molina, 674 F.3d at 1115), that is, 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).

         B. Standard for Determining Disability Benefits

         When case reaches 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. First, the ALJ considers whether the claimant currently works at a job that meets the criteria for “substantial gainful activity.” Id. 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). 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), 416.920(a)(4); Social Security Ruling 96-8p.

         After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ proceeds to the fourth step and determines whether the claimant has the RFC to perform past relevant work, either as it was “actually” performed 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 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). If the claimant can do other work, the claimant is not disabled; but if the claimant cannot do other work and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled. See id. at 1099.

         The claimant generally bears the burden at each of steps one through four to show either disability or that the requirements to proceed to the next step are met; the claimant bears the ultimate burden to show disability. 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.

         III.

         DISCUSSION

         The parties present two disputed issues (Jt. Stip. at 2): Issue No. 1: Did the ALJ properly consider Listing 1.02; and Issue No. 2: Did the ALJ properly ...


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