United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
G. (“plaintiff”) filed this
action on December 27, 2018, seeking review of the
Commissioner's denial of her applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments.
The parties filed Consents to proceed before a Magistrate
Judge on January 15, 2019, and January 30, 2019. Pursuant to
the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation
(alternatively “JS”) on August 7, 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 1964. [Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 201.] She has past relevant work experience as a loan
processor. [Id. at 25, 62.]
April 29, 2015, plaintiff filed an application for a period
of disability and DIB, and an application for SSI payments,
alleging that she has been unable to work since September 1,
2006. [Id. at 15, see 199, 201-09.] After
her applications were denied initially and upon
reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a request for a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). [Id. at 140-41.] A hearing was
held on January 18, 2018, at which time plaintiff appeared
represented by an attorney, and testified on her own behalf.
[Id. at 31-65.] A vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. [Id. at 61-63.]
On April 3, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that
plaintiff was not under a disability from September 1, 2006,
the alleged onset date, through April 3, 2018, the date of
the decision. [Id. at 15-26.] Plaintiff requested
review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council.
[Id. at 196.] When the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review on October 26, 2018
[id. at 1-5], the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner. See S am v.
Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008) (per c
uriam) (citations omitted). This action followed.
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.”).
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 her 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 her past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that she
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 since September 1, 2006, the
alleged onset date. [AR at 18.] At step two, the ALJ
concluded that plaintiff has the severe impairments of
obesity; right ankle tendinitis; right knee status post total
knee replacement; lumbar spine degenerative disc disease;
facet arthropathy and radiculopathy; cervical spine
degenerative disc disease and radiculopathy; migraine
headaches; and chronic pain. [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. [Id.
at 20.] The ALJ further found that plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a),
[She] is never to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she may
occasionally climb ramps or stairs; she may frequently
balance; and she may occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and
[Id.] At step four, based on plaintiff's RFC and
the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is
able to perform her past relevant work as a loan processor.
[Id. at 25.] Accordingly, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged onset
date of September 1, 2006, through April 3, 2018, the date of
the decision. [Id. at 26.]
contends that the ALJ erred when she failed to articulate
specific, clear and convincing reasons for rejecting
plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony. [JS at 4.] As
set forth below, the Court agrees with plaintiff and remands
for further proceedings.
SUBJECTIVE SYMPTOM TESTIMONY
contends the ALJ failed to articulate legally sufficient
reasons for rejecting plaintiff's subjective symptom
summarized plaintiff's testimony as follows:
[She] testified she originally injured her right knee and
ankle in 2003. She alleged since then she had multiple
surgeries on her right knee with hardware inserted in her
shin and anticipated additional surgical procedures. She
stated she underwent total knee replacement in 2011. [She]
asserted she had used a walker and a cane to assist with
ambulation and most recently used a cane about two days prior
to the hearing. She maintained she continued to have limited
motion of the right knee and could not squat. [She] estimated
she could not walk for more than 20 minutes, could not lift
more than 5 pounds, could not sit for more than 15 minutes at
a time, and could not stand for more than 15 minutes at a
time. [She] also complained of pain in her low back and neck
and contended she essentially experienced daily pain from her
neck to her toes. However, she maintained she experienced the
most pain in her low back and right knee, which was constant.
[She] testified in a typical day she had to lie down about
80% of the day.
[AR at 21.]
discounted plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony as
Despite her impairments, [she] has engaged in a somewhat
normal level of daily activity ...