United States District Court, E.D. California
RUBEN E. GARIBAY Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-1383f. For the reasons that follow, the
court will grant plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
and deny the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary
2010, before filing the SSI application at issue in this
appeal, plaintiff filed a previous SSI application that was
addressed in a May 20, 2011 ALJ decision finding plaintiff
not disabled. Administrative Record (“AR”) 14,
154-67. Plaintiff's request for review
of the ALJ's finding by the Appeals Council was denied,
but he did not challenge the final decision in district
on June 20, 2014,  plaintiff filed a new application
for SSI, which is the subject of the instant appeal. AR 14.
Plaintiff alleged the same disability onset date of September
1, 2009. Id. The application was denied initially
and on reconsideration. Id. On February 14, 2017 ALJ
G. Ross Wheatley presided over a hearing on plaintiff's
challenge to the disapprovals. AR 62-99 (transcript).
Plaintiff was present and testified at the hearing. AR 62. He
was represented by attorney Langley Kreuze at the hearing.
Id. Timothy J. Farrell, a vocational expert, also
testified at the hearing. Id.
March 8, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
finding plaintiff “not disabled” under Section
1614(a)(3)(A) of Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). AR 11-30 (decision). On April 12, 2018, the
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review,
leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security. AR 1-4 (decision).
filed this action on May 15, 2018. ECF No. 1; see 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The parties consented
to the jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. ECF Nos. 7, 8.
The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, based
upon the Administrative Record filed by the Commissioner,
have been fully briefed. ECF Nos. 12 (plaintiff's summary
judgment motion), 15 (Commissioner's summary judgment
motion), 16 (plaintiff's response).
was born in 1970, and accordingly was 44 years old when he
filed his application. AR 184. Plaintiff did not complete
high school, but can perform simple math and communicate in
English. AR 20, 68-69, 317, 319, 613.
Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled
will be upheld “if it is supported by substantial
evidence and if the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards.” Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart,
341 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2003). “‘The
findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .'”
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” but
“may be less than a preponderance.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(internal quotation marks omitted). “While inferences
from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only
those ‘reasonably drawn from the record' will
suffice.” Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063,
1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).
this court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the
Commissioner, 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.” Desrosiers v. Secretary of HHS,
846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); Jones v. Heckler,
760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (“The court must
consider both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion; it may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving
ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). “Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). 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 v. Astrue,
495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007); Connett v.
Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003) (“It
was error for the district court to affirm the ALJ's
credibility decision based on evidence that the ALJ did not
court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it
is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is
“clear from the record that an ALJ's error was
‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.'” Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Stout v. Commissioner, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir.
2006)); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400
F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
Security Income is available for every eligible individual
who is “disabled.” 42 U.S.C. § 1381a.
Plaintiff is “disabled” if she is
“‘unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment . . . .'” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987) (quoting identically worded provisions
of 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine whether an applicant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4); Barnhart v.
Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24-25 (2003) (setting forth the
“five-step sequential evaluation process to determine
disability” under Title II and Title XVI). The
following summarizes the sequential evaluation:
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not,
proceed to step two.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b).
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe”
impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, the
claimant is not disabled.
Id., § 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c).
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination
of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is
disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Id., § 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).
Step four: Does the claimant's residual functional
capacity make him capable of performing his past work? If so,
the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
Id., § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (e), (f).
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional
capacity perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not