United States District Court, S.D. California
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION REGARDING CROSS-MOTIONS FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NOS. 16, 17]
Honorable Michael S. Berg United States Magistrate Judge.
Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable Dana
M. Sabraw, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Civil Local Rule 72.1(c) of the
United States District Court for the Southern District of
California. On June 18, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review
of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying
her application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. (Compl., ECF No. 1.)
pending before the Court are the parties' cross-motions
for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court RECOMMENDS that Plaintiff's motion
for summary judgment be GRANTED, that the
Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment be
DENIED, and that Judgment be entered
reversing the decision of the Commissioner and remanding this
matter for further administrative proceedings pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
February 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed an application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging disability
beginning April 8, 2015. (Certified Admin. R., 230-31, ECF
No. 13-5 (“AR”).) After her application was
denied initially and upon reconsideration, (id. at
152-56, 159-63), Plaintiff requested an administrative
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), (id. at 169-70). An
administrative hearing was held on September 7, 2017.
(Id. at 35-78.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with
counsel, and testimony was taken from her and a vocational
expert (“VE”). (Id.)
reflected in his December 7, 2017 hearing decision, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, from April 8, 2015
through the date of the decision. (Id. at 15-30.)
The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner on April 20, 2018, when the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at
1-6.) This timely civil action followed.
SUMMARY OF THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
rendering his decision, the ALJ followed the
Commissioner's five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 8, 2015, the alleged onset date. (AR at
17.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease,
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, a bilateral elbow
impairment, depressive disorder and anxiety disorder.
(Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled the severity of one of the
impairments listed in the Commissioner's Listing of
Impairments. (Id. at 24.)
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to do the following:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
the claimant is limited to occasional bilateral gross
handling, fine manipulation, and reaching, and the claimant
is further limited to understanding, remembering, and
carrying out simple, routine, repetitive tasks, with standard
industry work breaks every two hours.
(Id. at 26.)
four, the ALJ adduced and accepted the VE's testimony
that a hypothetical person with Plaintiff's vocational
profile and RFC would be unable to perform any of her past
relevant work. (Id. at 29, 43-46.) The ALJ then
proceeded to step five of the sequential evaluation process.
Based on the VE's testimony that a hypothetical person
with Plaintiff's vocational profile and RFC could perform
the requirements of occupations that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy, such as furniture rental
consultant, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(Id. at 30.)
reflected in Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment,
Plaintiff is raising the following issues as the grounds for
reversal and remand:
1. Whether the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical
evidence in assessing Plaintiff's RFC, and specifically
the opinions of Plaintiff's consultative examiners, Dr.
Laja Ibraheem and Dr. H. Douglas Engelhorn (Pl.'s Mot.
Summ. J. 3-9, ECF No. 16-1 (“Pl.'s Mot.”));
2. Whether the ALJ failed to resolve an apparent conflict
between the VE's testimony and the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”) (id. at
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of the Social Security Act allows unsuccessful
applicants to seek judicial review of the Commissioner's
final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (West 2018). The
scope of judicial review is limited, and the denial of
benefits will not be disturbed if it is supported by
substantial evidence in the record and contains no legal
error. Id.; Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d
1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).
evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance. It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d
648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Desrosiers v. Sec'y
of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th
Cir. 1988)); see also Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Where the evidence is susceptible to
more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision
must be upheld. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035,
1038 (9th Cir. 2008). This includes deferring to the
ALJ's credibility determinations and resolutions of
evidentiary conflicts. See Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d
503, 509 (9th Cir. 2001). Even if the 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. See Batson v. Comm'r
Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
The ALJ Failed to Properly Evaluate Opinions of
asserts that the ALJ did not provide specific and legitimate
reasons for discounting the opinions of two consultative
examiners. (See Pl.'s Mot. at 3-9; Pl.'s
Opp'n Def.'s Cross-Mot. Summ. J. and Reply 2-3, ECF
No. 19-1 (“Pl.'s Reply”).) Plaintiff contends
that the ALJ improperly concluded that both consultative
examiners' opinions were internally inconsistent.
(Pl.'s Mot. at 6-8.) Plaintiff further contends that the
ALJ erred by assigning little weight to the opinion of Dr.
Ibraheem, due to Dr. Ibraheem's partial reliance on
Plaintiff's self-reported symptoms. (Id. at
Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly evaluated the
medical opinion evidence. (Def.'s Cross-Mot. Summ. J.
4-8, ECF No. 17-1 (“Def.'s Mot.”).) The
Commissioner contends that the ALJ's finding that both
consultative examiners' opinions were internally
inconsistent justified discounting those opinions.
(Id. at 5, 7.) The Commissioner further asserts that
the ALJ's finding that Dr. Ibraheem relied on
Plaintiff's reported symptoms rather than medical records
justified the ALJ's assigning little weight to Dr.
Ibraheem's opinion. (Id. at 5.)
types of physicians may offer opinions in Social Security
cases: “(1) those who treat the claimant (treating
physicians); (2) those who examine but do not treat the
claimant (examining physicians); and (3) those who neither
examine nor treat the claimant (nonexamining
physicians).” Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821,
830 (9th Cir. 1995). A treating physician's opinion is
generally given more weight than that of a physician who did
not treat the claimant. See id.; 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(1). An examining physician's opinion is
“entitled to greater ...