United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff filed this action on
November 30, 2017, seeking review of the
Commissioner's denial of his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The parties filed
Consents to proceed before a Magistrate Judge on February 22,
2018, and March 9, 2018. Pursuant to the Court's Order,
the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (alternatively
“JS”) on April 22, 2019, that addresses their
positions concerning the disputed issue in the case. The
Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission
without oral argument.
was born in 1950. [Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 168.] He has past relevant work experience as a hotel
worker and as a retail worker. [AR at 20.]
December 10, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for a
period of disability and DIB, alleging that he has been
unable to work since September 5, 2007. [AR at 18;
see AR at 168.] After his application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). [AR at 18, 87-88.] A hearing was held on
January 18, 2017, at which time plaintiff appeared
represented by an attorney and testified on his own behalf.
[AR at 18, 29-40.] Two medical experts (“ME”)
also testified. [AR at 18, 37-38, 39-40.] On February 10,
2017, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was
not under a disability from September 5, 2007, the alleged
onset date, through September 30, 2007, the date last
insured. [AR at 18-23.] Plaintiff requested review of the
ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. [AR at 167.] When
the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review
on September 25, 2017 [AR at 1-5], the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sam v.
Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008) (per
curiam) (citations omitted). This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to
review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The
decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application
of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622
F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance; it is 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) (citation omitted). “Where evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Id.
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, the
Court “must consider the entire record as a whole,
weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence
that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion, and may
not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of
supporting evidence.” Id. (quoting
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Court will
“review only the reasons provided by the ALJ in the
disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a
ground upon which he did not r e l y . ” I d .
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see a l
s o SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 87, 63 S.Ct. 454,
87 L.Ed. 626 (1943) (“The grounds upon which an
administrative order must be judged are those upon which the
record discloses that its action was based.”).
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or which has
lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months. Garcia v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 768 F.3d 925, 930 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)).
THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential
evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th
Cir. 2006) (citing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,
1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)). In the first step, the Commissioner
must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not
disabled and the claim is denied. Lounsburry, 468
F.3d at 1114. If the claimant is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limiting his ability to do basic work
activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and
the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of
impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R.
§ 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is
conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id.
If the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the
Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the claimant has sufficient “residual
functional capacity” to perform his past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). If the
claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of
disability is established. Id. The Commissioner then
bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not
disabled because there is other work existing in
“significant numbers” in the national or regional
economy the claimant can do, either (1) by the testimony of a
VE, or (2) by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 2.
Lounsburry, 468 F.3d at 1114. The determination of
this issue comprises the fifth and final step in the
sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 721, 828 n.5 (9th
Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity from September 5, 2007, the
alleged onset date, through September, 30, 2007, his date
last insured. [AR at 20.] At step two, the ALJ concluded that
through the date last insured, plaintiff had the medically
determinable impairments of kidney stones, renal cyst,
prostatitis, and asymptomatic HIV infection. [Id.]
The ALJ also mentioned the following: (1) plaintiff's
complaint of knee pain in November 2007, noting that it was
after the date last insured; (2) a January 2008 MRI of
plaintiff's right knee; and (3) plaintiff's total
right knee replacement surgery in November 2008. [AR at 21.]
The ALJ concluded that through the date last insured,
plaintiff did not have a severe impairment or combination of
impairments. [Id.] Accordingly, the ALJ determined
that plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged
onset date of September 5, 2007, through September 30, 2007,
the date last insured. [AR at 22.]