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Bullock v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 27, 2019

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



         This social security action was submitted to the court without oral argument for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.[2]Plaintiff argues that the Administrative Law Judge improperly rejected plaintiff's subjective testimony and erroneously determined that plaintiff could perform past relevant work. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is granted in part, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this order.


         In December of 2014, plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2012.[3] (Transcript (“Tr.”) at 13, 86-87, 346-55.) Plaintiff's alleged impairments included a back injury, heart condition, seizures, diabetes, and high blood pressure. (Id. at 115.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, (id. at 43-47), and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 49-53.)

         Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing which was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on December 7, 2016. (Id. at 472-507.) Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and testified at the administrative hearing. (Id. at 473-74.) In a decision issued on March 21, 2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 21.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2014, the amended alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; tendinitis of the right shoulder; diabetes; and a history of heart disease and peripheral artery disease status post stent placements in the left lower extremity (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform work activities with the following limitations: she can lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. She can sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She can stand and/or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She is limited to no more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs. She is limited to no more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. She is limited to no more than frequent overhead reaching with the right upper extremity. She requires the ability to briefly change positions from sitting to standing and vice versa every 30 minutes, but she is able to remain at the work station while doing so.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as an Insurance Clerk (DOT 219.367-014; sedentary exertional level; performed by the claimant at the sedentary exertional level; semiskilled; Specific Vocational Preparation level (SVP) 4). This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 1, 2014, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).

(Id. at 15-21.)

         On February 7, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's March 21, 2017 decision. (Id. at 6-10.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on February 24, 2018. (ECF No. 1.)


         “The district court reviews the Commissioner's final decision for substantial evidence, and the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error.” Hill v. Astrue, 698 F.3d 1153, 1158-59 (9th Cir. 2012). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997).

         “[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of supporting evidence.'” Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). If, however, “the record considered as a whole can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the Commissioner's decision, we must affirm.” McCartey v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2002).

         A five-step evaluation process is used to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). The five-step process has been summarized as follows:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe” impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding of not disabled is appropriate.
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is automatically determined disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, ...

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