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Miller v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. California

July 19, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.



         Plaintiff Gerald Miller (“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final administrative decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). (AR).[2]

         For the reasons expressed herein, the Court recommends the case be REMANDED to the ALJ for further analysis on the issue of whether Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus should have been specifically addressed as a severe impairment within the context of Plaintiff's RFC.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born December 8, 1955. (AR 54). At the time the instant application was filed on January 15, 2014, Plaintiff was 57 years-old which categorized him as a person of advanced age. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563, 416.963.

         A. Procedural History

         On January 15, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging a disability beginning June 1, 2013. (ECF No. 15-1, p. 1). After his application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (AR 46). An administrative hearing was held on April 5, 2016. Plaintiff appeared and was represented by attorney Don Jorgensen. Testimony was taken from Plaintiff and John P. Kilcher a vocational expert (“VE”). (Id.). On May 18, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits. (AR 55).

         On July 18, 2016, Plaintiff sought review with the Appeals Council. (AR 40). On December 11, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and declared the Administrative Law Judge's decision to be the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security in Plaintiff's case. (AR 1). This timely civil action followed.


         A. Legal Standard

         Sections 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of the Social Security Act allow unsuccessful applicants to seek judicial review of a final agency decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The scope of judicial review is limited in that a denial of benefits will not be disturbed if it is supported by substantial evidence and contains no legal error. Id.; see also Batson v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin, 359 F.3d 1190, 1993 (9th Cir. 2004).

         Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” but less than a preponderance. Sandqathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997). “[I]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). The court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions. Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Services, 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). If the evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the ALJ's decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. When the evidence is inconclusive, “questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts in the testimony are functions solely of the Secretary.” Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982).

         Even if a reviewing court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusions, the court must set aside the decision if the ALJ failed to apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and reaching his or her decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Section 405(g) permits a court to enter a judgment affirming, modifying or reversing the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The reviewing court may also remand the matter to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings. Id.

         B. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

          In rendering his decision, the ALJ followed the Commissioner's five step sequential evaluation process. See C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2013. (AR 48).

         At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: gastrointestinal impairments, chronic liver disease, and cardiomyopathy. (Id.).

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments listed in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments. (AR 50). (citing 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).

         Next, after considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the “residual functional capacity [(RFC)] to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c).” (AR 50). The Plaintiff would be “limited to frequent climbing of stairs, ramps, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, balancing, stopping, kneeling, crouching and crawling, must avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, vibration, pulmonary irritants and all exposure to hazards, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights.” (Id.). The ALJ said that his RFC assessment was based on all the evidence with consideration of the limitations and restrictions imposed by the combined effects of ...

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