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Hastie v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 12, 2019

JORDAN M.S. HASTIE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction to conduct all proceedings in the case, including the entry of final judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the court will grant plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and deny the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.


         Plaintiff, born in 1996, applied on June 16, 2014 for SSI, alleging disability beginning December 15, 2006. Administrative Transcript (“AT”) 21, 32, 191. He later amended his alleged onset date to June 16, 2014.[1] (AT 66.) Plaintiff alleged he was unable to work due to a learning disability and partial trisomy 13. AT 245. In a decision dated August 19, 2016, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled.[2] AT 21-34. The ALJ made the following findings (citations to 20 C.F.R. omitted):

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 16, 2014, the application date.
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: chromosomal disorder and intellectual disability.
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant can perform simple, repetitive tasks.
5. The claimant has no past relevant work.
6. The claimant was born on XX/XX/1996 and was 18 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49 on the date the application was filed.
7. The claimant has at least a high-school education and is able to communicate in English.
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant does not have past relevant work.
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since June 16, 2014, the date the application was filed.

         AT 23-33.


         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed the following error in finding plaintiff not disabled: The ALJ's RFC finding that plaintiff could perform simple, routine, repetitive work was not supported by substantial evidence.


         The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “The 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) (citations omitted). “The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

         The record as a whole must be considered, Howard v. Heckler, 782 F.2d 1484, 1487 (9th Cir. 1986), and both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion weighed. See Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). The court may not affirm the ALJ's decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Id.; see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a finding of either disability or nondisability, the finding of the ALJ is conclusive, see Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987), and may be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied in weighing the evidence. See Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).


         The court first notes the following background findings from the ALJ's decision: “Genetic testing shows that the claimant has a rare chromosomal disorder called Partial Trisomy 13q . . . associated with shorter life expectancy and other medical problems [including] developmental delays, partial absence seizures, attention deficit disorder, nocturnal enuresis, and intellectual disability. Multiple administrations of psychometric tests confirm he has borderline intellectual functioning.” After the June 2014 application date, plaintiff “worked at REI as part of a college program at Fresno State, the Wayfinders Program, which is a 2-year postsecondary transition program for students with intellectual disabilities. He worked seven hours a week [and] did not earn income at the substantial gainful activity level.” AT 24; record citations omitted.

         Turning to plaintiff's argument, “[p]laintiff agrees that, as far as it goes, the ALJ's RFC for simple, routine, repetitive work . . . is accurate.” (ECF No. 14-2 at 15; record citation omitted). However, plaintiff argues, “[i]n addition to plaintiff's obvious limitation to simple tasks, the record patently supports additional limitations which, at a minimum, include his demonstrated need for frequent to constant support while performing tasks; that, even with the support, he can perform such tasks at a slow pace and not always accurately; and a host of social/interpersonal issues relating to his immaturity and bedwetting/defecating himself.” (Id. at 15-16.)

         Social Security Ruling 96-8p sets forth the policy interpretation of the Commissioner for assessing residual functional capacity. SSR 96-8p. Residual functional capacity is what a person “can still do despite [the individual's] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a), 416.945(a) (2003); see also Valencia v. Heckler, 751 F.2d 1082, 1085 (9th Cir. 1985) (residual functional capacity reflects current “physical and mental capabilities”). RFC is assessed based on the relevant evidence in the case record, including the medical history, medical source statements, and subjective descriptions and observations made by the claimant, family, neighbors, friends, or other persons. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 404.1545(a)(3). When assessing RFC, the ALJ must consider the claimant's “ability to meet the physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements of work[.]” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(4).

         Here, plaintiff argues, the ALJ improperly discounted the opinions of two physicians, Dr. Tezcan and Dr. Nakagawa, who indicated that plaintiff had ...

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