United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff filed this action on July
30, 2018, seeking review of the
Commissioner's denial of his applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) payments. The parties
filed Consents to proceed before a Magistrate Judge on August
21, 2018, and September 4, 2018. Pursuant to the Court's
Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (alternatively
“JS”) on April 18, 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 1959. [Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 22, 193, 197.] He has past relevant work experience as an
insurance sales agent. [AR at 22, 54-55.]
30, 2014, plaintiff filed an application for SSI payments,
and on July 3, 2014, he filed an application for a period of
disability and DIB, alleging in both that he has been unable
to work since June 10, 2003. [AR at 15; see AR at
193-96, 197-202.] After his applications were denied
initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). [AR at 15, 135-37.] A hearing was held
on April 27, 2017, at which time plaintiff appeared
represented by an attorney, and testified on his own behalf.
[AR at 15, 33-58.] A vocational expert (“VE”)
also testified. [AR at 54-56.] On May 12, 2017, the ALJ
issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not under a
disability from June 10, 2003, the alleged onset date,
through May 12, 2017, the date of the decision. [AR at
15-24.] Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision
by the Appeals Council. [AR at 190.] When the Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review on June 1, 2018 [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
outset, the ALJ found that plaintiff's medical record
included “no medical records prior to [plaintiff's]
date last insured, ” and he had no severe impairments prior
to his date last insured and, therefore, he “was . . .
not disabled” prior to that date. [AR at 17.] The ALJ
thus denied plaintiff's application for DIB.
[Id.] Addressing only plaintiff's SSI
application, the ALJ found at step one that plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 30, 2014,
plaintiff's protective filing date. [AR at 18.] At step
two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has the severe
impairments of lumbar degenerative disc disease; status post
colostomy and hernia repair; and hypertension. [Id.]
The ALJ also concluded that plaintiff had no more than mild
mental limitations. [Id.] At step three, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or a
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any
of the impairments in the Listing. [AR at 19.] The ALJ
further found that plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c),
“but is limited to no more than frequently fingering,
grasping, feeling, or overhead reaching.”
[Id.] At step four, based on plaintiff's RFC and
the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is
able to perform his past relevant work as an insurance sales
agent. [AR at 22, 54-55.] The ALJ made an alternative finding
at step five that there are other jobs existing in the
national economy that plaintiff is also able to perform,
including work ...