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J.S. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 12, 2019

J.S., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE SHASHI H. KEWALRAMANI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff J.S.[1] (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner, ” “Agency, ” or “Defendant”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and this action is REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on August 22, 2014, alleging disability beginning on January 26, 2013. Transcript (“Tr.”) 262-63.[2] Plaintiff later requested a closed period of disability from January 26, 2013 to November 7, 2016. Tr. 412-13. Following a denial of benefits, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) and, on August 1, 2017, ALJ Janice E. Shave determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 22-45. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council, however, review was denied on January 23, 2018. Tr. 1-8. This appeal followed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The reviewing court shall affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is based on correct legal standards and the legal findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. 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) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In reviewing the Commissioner's alleged errors, this Court must weigh “both the evidence that supports and detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986).

         “‘When evidence reasonably supports either confirming or reversing the ALJ's decision, [the Court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.'” Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154, 1163 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Batson, 359 F.3d at 1196); see also Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 959 (9th Cir. 2002) (“If the ALJ's credibility finding is supported by substantial evidence in the record, [the Court] may not engage in second-guessing.”) (citation omitted). A reviewing court, however, “cannot affirm the decision of an agency on a ground that the agency did not invoke in making its decision.” Stout v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). Finally, a court may not reverse an ALJ's decision if the error is harmless. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). “[T]he burden of showing that an error is harmful normally falls upon the party attacking the agency's determination.” Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409 (2009).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Establishing Disability Under The Act

         To establish whether a claimant is disabled under the Act, it must be shown that:

(a) the claimant suffers from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months; and
(b) the impairment renders the claimant incapable of performing the work that the claimant previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy.

Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). “If a claimant meets both requirements, he or she is ‘disabled.'” Id.

         The ALJ employs a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Each step is potentially dispositive and “if a claimant is found to be ‘disabled' or ‘not-disabled' at any step in the sequence, there is no need to consider subsequent steps.” Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant carries the burden of proof at steps one through four, and the Commissioner carries the burden of proof at step five. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.

The five steps are:
Step 1. Is the claimant presently working in a substantially gainful activity [(“SGA”)]? If so, then the claimant is “not disabled” within the meaning of the [] Act and is not entitled to [DIB]. If the claimant is not working in a [SGA], then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step one and the evaluation proceeds to step two. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
Step 2. Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, then the claimant is “not disabled” and is not entitled to [DIB]. If the claimant's impairment is severe, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step two and the evaluation proceeds to step three. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).
Step 3. Does the impairment “meet or equal” one of a list of specific impairments described in the regulations? If so, the claimant is “disabled” and therefore entitled to [DIB]. If the claimant's impairment neither meets nor equals one of the impairments listed in the regulations, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved ...

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