United States District Court, C.D. California
RALPH M. OROSCO, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND
SAGAR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), IT IS HEREBY
ORDERED that this matter be remanded for further
administrative action consistent with this Opinion.
April 2, 2018, Ralph M. Orosco (“Plaintiff”),
represented by counsel, filed a Complaint seeking review of
the denial of his application for supplemental social
security benefits. (Dkt. No. 1). The parties have consented
to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 12). On August 27, 2018, Defendant
filed an Answer along with the Administrative Record
(“AR”). (Dkt. Nos. 15-16). On February 26, 2019,
the parties filed a Joint Submission (“Joint
Stip.”), setting forth their respective positions
regarding Plaintiff's sole claim. (Dkt. No. 26).
BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD
March 21, 2014, Plaintiff, formerly employed as a landscape
laborer (see AR 51), filed an application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), pursuant to
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (See
AR 185-190). The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's
application initially and on reconsideration. (See
AR 111-124). On October 28, 2016, Administrative Law Judge
Norman L. Bennett, (“ALJ”), held a hearing at
which Plaintiff, represented by counsel, and Bernard Preston,
a vocational expert, testified. (See AR 45-66).
December 7, 2016, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's SSI
application. (See AR 23-44). Applying the five-step
sequential process, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March
21, 2014, the application filing date. (See AR 29).
At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative joint disease
of the right knee, hepatitis C, hypertension, history of
stroke with residual right arm and leg weakness, and bipolar
disorder were severe impairments. (See AR
29-30). At step three, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any
of the Listings enumerated in the regulations. (See
then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) (see AR 32-38) and concluded that
he can perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.967(b),  with the following limitations: lifting
and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently;
standing and/or walking up to six hours out of an eight-hour
day; sitting up to six hours out of an eight-hour day;
frequent postural activities except occasional kneeling;
simple, repetitive tasks; and occasional contact with
supervisors, coworkers, and the general public. (See
AR 32). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable
to perform any past relevant work. (See AR 38). At
step five, the ALJ determined, based on Plaintiff's RFC,
age, education, and work experience that Plaintiff could
perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy, including cleaner, garment sorter, and
inspector. (See AR 38-39). Accordingly, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by
the Social Security Act since March 21, 2014, the SSI
application filing date. (See AR 39).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
January 18, 2018. (See AR 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks
judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as
the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine
if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used proper
legal standards. 42 U.S.C § 405(g); see Carmickle v.
Comm'r, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008);
Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir.
2007). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla,
but less than a preponderance.” Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998)(citing
Jamerson v. Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir.
1997)). It is relevant evidence “which a reasonable
person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Hoopai, supra;
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir.
1996). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a
finding, “a court must consider the record as a whole,
weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.”
Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir.
2001)(citation omitted); see Widmark v. Barnhart,
454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(inferences
“reasonably drawn from the record” can constitute
Court “may not affirm [the Commissioner's] decision
simply by isolating a specific quantum of support evidence,
but must also consider evidence that detracts from [the
Commissioner's] conclusion.” Ray v. Bowen,
813 F.2d 914, 915 (9th Cir. 1987)(citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). However, the Court cannot disturb
findings supported by substantial evidence, even though there
may exist other evidence supporting Plaintiff's claim.
See Torske v. Richardson, 484 F.2d 59, 60 (9th Cir.
1973). “If the evidence can reasonably support either
affirming or reversing the [Commissioner's] conclusion,
[a] court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
[Commissioner].” Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-21
contends that the ALJ failed to provide specific, clear, and
convincing reasons for discrediting his testimony.
(See Joint Stip. at 4-13). Respondent contends that
the ALJ did provide specific, clear, and convincing reasons
for discrediting Plaintiff's testimony. (See
Joint. Stip. at 13-17).
consideration of the parties' arguments and the record as
a whole, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claim of error
warrants remand for further consideration.
The ALJ Failed to Properly Assess Plaintiff's
Function Report dated April 24, 2014 (completed by the
girlfriend of Plaintiff, who is illiterate [see AR
55]), Plaintiff detailed his abilities and limitations.
(See AR 211-17). Plaintiff lived in a home with his
family, where his sister primarily took care of him. (AR
211). With respect to employment, Plaintiff attempted to
“do labor work” prior to the onset of his
symptoms, but he “was not able to keep a job.”
had difficulty sleeping, which was affected by his anxiety
and insomnia. (AR 212). His sister fed him in the morning and
helped prepare meals for him, as Plaintiff did not know how
to cook. (See AR 211, 213). His sister additionally
performed various household chores and gave his medications
to him. (AR 213). Plaintiff's inability to aid in these
activities was the result of his back pain and a recent
stroke. (AR 214). Plaintiff needed aid in ironing, laundry,
cleaning, and going to doctor's appointments. (AR 213).
Plaintiff needed someone to accompany him when he did leave
the house and had difficulties with social activities because
he spent “most of his life . . . in prison, ”.
(215-16). Plaintiff did not like being around others and
preferred to only be around his mother and sister. (AR 216).
Plaintiff was only able to go out “about every three
days, ” but also did not “come home for
days” at a time. (AR 214). When Plaintiff left the
house, he rode in a car; he did not know how to drive. (AR
214). Plaintiff had the ability to shave, feed himself, and
put on shoes, but needed help changing clothes, taking a
bath, and reminders to brush his teeth. (AR 212-13).
Plaintiff watched television approximately one hour a day.
(AR 215). As for budgeting and finance-related issues,
Plaintiff was unable to pay bills, count change, handle a
savings account, and use a checkbook and money orders. (AR
had difficulty lifting, walking, stair-climbing,
understanding, squatting, sitting, following instructions,
kneeling, using hands, standing, talking, completing tasks,
getting along with others, reaching, hearing, lifting ten
pounds at a time, and had issues with memory and
concentration. (AR 216). Plaintiff could only walk around the
house since the stroke affected his ability to walk; he could
go from the bedroom to the bathroom, and needed to rest five
minutes before resuming walking. (AR 216). Plaintiff had
difficulty following written or spoken instructions, and
could pay attention for ten minutes. (AR 216). Plaintiff had
difficulty getting along with authority figures, but he had
never been fired because of an inability to get along with
others. (AR 217). Plaintiff did not handle changes in routine
or stress well. (AR 217). Plaintiff used “glasses all
the time, ” a “cane sometimes, ” and a
“wheelchair right now ever since [he] had a
stroke.” (AR 217).
hearing on October 28, 2016, Plaintiff testified to his
symptoms and limitations. (See AR 49-60). Plaintiff
is 52-years-old, five-foot seven-inches tall, weighing 167
pounds and has a seventh-grade education. (AR 50). The last
time Plaintiff used any drugs or alcohol was some time in
2014. (AR 60). In September 2014, he performed landscaping
work, including “sweeping” and “pick[ing]
up papers and trash, ” wherein he lifted a “rake
and a broom” sweeping into a “rubber
trashcan.” (AR 51-52). However, he was unable to
continue due to knee pain, arthritis, and a “disc in
the lower back” causing pain. (AR 52). Plaintiff denied
receiving any surgery for his knee and received only steroids
under the kneecap for treatment. (AR 49). Plaintiff
experiences issues with his general health, arthritis, and
right elbow. (AR 59). “[B]ending or lifting” his
right elbow creates pain and limits him to lifting a half
gallon of water or milk. (AR 59). His doctor told him to
“keep [his] pace” ...