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Harold T. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 18, 2019

HAROLD T., Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 15, 16.) Plaintiff Harold T. moves under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)[1] for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill's (“Commissioner”) final decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).

         This Report and Recommendation is submitted to United States District Judge Thomas J. Whelan pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Civil Local Rule 72.1(c) of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. After a careful review of the moving and opposing papers, the administrative record, and the applicable law, the Court RECOMMENDS that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 15) be DENIED and Commissioner's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 16) be GRANTED.


         On July 25, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI under Title XVI of the Social Security Act alleging disability beginning February 13, 2013. (ECF No. 13-5 at 12.) Plaintiff's application was denied by initial determination on December 12, 2014. (ECF No. 13-4 at 4.) Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the initial determination on February 9, 2015. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff's application was denied upon reconsideration on April 6, 2015. (ECF No. 13-3 at 44-45.) On June 8, 2015, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (ECF No. 13-4 at 19.) ALJ Mark B. Greenberg (“the ALJ”) was appointed to preside over the matter (id. at 37, 41), and on November 22, 2016, the ALJ conducted the hearing (ECF No. 13-2 at 73). On January 12, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision and found Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id. at 30.)

         On February 9, 2018, the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff then timely commenced this instant action for judicial review. (ECF No. 1.)


         In rendering his decision, the ALJ followed the Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 25, 2014, the date of Plaintiff's application for SSI. (ECF No. 13-2 at 21.)

         At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: chronic ischemic heart disease; obstructive sleep apnea; gastro-esophageal reflux disease; affective disorder; anxiety disorder; personality disorder; and psychotic disorder. (Id.) ///

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments listed in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments. (Id.) Next, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) “to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR § 416.967(a), with no climbing, no work at unprotected heights, no fast[-]paced work, limited to nonpublic work with occasional[, ] superficial interaction with coworkers or supervisors, and simple routine tasks, in a habituated setting.” (Id. at 23 (emphasis added).)

         At step four, the ALJ compared the RFC assessed to the demands of Plaintiff's past, relevant work as a lube technician. (Id. at 29.) The ALJ concluded that the demands of Plaintiff's past work exceeded the RFC, and therefore, Plaintiff was unable to perform past work. (Id.)

         At step five, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC to determine whether Plaintiff was able to perform any other work. The ALJ classified Plaintiff as a younger individual with limited education for whom transferability of skills was immaterial. (Id.) Based on Vocational Expert (“VE”) Victoria Rei's testimony at the hearing that a hypothetical person with Plaintiff's vocational profile could perform the requirements of occupations that existed in significant numbers in the national economy (i.e., table worker, surveillance monitor, and bench hand assembler), the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 29-30.)


         The Social Security Act allows for unsuccessful applicants to seek judicial review of the Commissioner's final agency decision. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The scope of judicial review, however, is limited. The Commissioner's final decision should not be disturbed unless: (1) the ALJ's findings are based on legal error; or (2) the ALJ's determinations are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. See Schneider v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, but may be less than a preponderance.” Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 509 (9th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is “relevant evidence that, considering the entire record, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.; Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2003).

         In making this determination, the Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. See Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). Where the evidence can reasonably be construed to support more than one rational interpretation, the Court must uphold the ALJ's decision. See Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004). This includes deferring to the ALJ's credibility determinations and resolutions of evidentiary conflicts. See Lewis, 236 F.3d at 509.

         IV. PLAINTIFF'S ...

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