United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF REMAND
HONORABLE JACQUELINE CHOOLJIAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
January 15, 2019, plaintiff Irene I. filed a Complaint
seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's
denial of plaintiff's applications for benefits. The
parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions
for summary judgment, respectively (“Plaintiff's
Motion”) and (“Defendant's Motion”)
(collectively “Motions”). The Court has taken the
Motions under submission without oral argument. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; L.R. 7-15; January 17, 2019 Case Management
Order ¶ 5.
on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision
of the Commissioner is REVERSED AND REMANDED for further
proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order
BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
25, 2015 and June 26, 2015, respectively, plaintiff filed
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income, alleging disability beginning
on January 31, 2009 due to diabetes, dizziness, nausea, high
cholesterol, hepatitis, thyroid disease, tumor on ovary, and
high blood pressure. (Administrative Record
(“AR”) 201-08, 228). Plaintiff subsequently
alleged that depression and severe anxiety also limited her
ability to work. (AR 240, 251, 273). The ALJ examined the
medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was
represented by counsel) and a vocational expert. (AR 37-70).
February 8, 2018, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not
disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 15-30).
Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the
following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus,
hypertension, an ovarian cyst, and obesity (AR 18); (2)
plaintiff's impairments, considered individually or in
combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed
impairment (AR 20); (3) plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity to perform medium work (20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(c), 416.967(c)) with additional
limitations (AR 21); (4) plaintiff could perform past
relevant work as an instructional aide and childcare monitor
(AR 27-29); (5) in the alternative, even if plaintiff could
perform only light work, there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff
could perform, specifically, small product assembler,
collator, and light packer (AR 29); and (6) plaintiff's
statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of subjective symptoms were not entirely consistent
with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record
November 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
application for review. (AR 1-6).
APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
Administrative Evaluation of Disability Claims
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that
she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)) (internal quotation marks
omitted); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905. To be
considered disabled, a claimant must have an impairment of
such severity that she is incapable of performing work the
claimant previously performed (“past relevant
work”) as well as any other “work which exists in
the national economy.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
assess whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required to
use the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in
Social Security regulations. See Stout v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration, 454 F.3d
1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006) (describing five-step sequential
evaluation process) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920). The claimant has the burden of proof at steps one
through four - i.e., determination of whether the
claimant was engaging in substantial gainful activity (step
1), has a sufficiently severe impairment (step 2), has an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals one of the conditions listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“Listings”)
(step 3), and retains the residual functional capacity to
perform past relevant work (step 4). Burch v.
Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation
omitted). The Commissioner has the burden of proof at step
five - i.e., establishing that the claimant could
perform other work in the national economy. Id.
Federal Court Review of Social Security Disability
federal court may set aside a denial of benefits only when
the Commissioner's “final decision” was
“based on legal error or not supported by substantial
evidence in the record.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir.
2017) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The standard of
review in disability cases is “highly
deferential.” Rounds v. Commissioner of Social
Security Administration, 807 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th Cir.
2015) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Thus, an
ALJ's decision must be upheld if the evidence could
reasonably support either affirming or reversing the
decision. Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 674-75 (citations
omitted). Even when an ALJ's decision contains error, it
must be affirmed if the error was harmless. See Treichler
v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 775
F.3d 1090, 1099 (9th Cir. 2014) (ALJ error harmless if (1)
inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination;
or (2) ALJ's path may reasonably be discerned despite the
error) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 674 (defining
“substantial evidence” as “more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance”) (citation
and quotation marks omitted). When determining whether
substantial evidence supports an ALJ's finding, a 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[.]”
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
courts review only the reasoning the ALJ provided, and may
not affirm the ALJ's decision “on a ground upon
which [the ALJ] did not rely.” Trevizo, 871
F.3d at 675 (citations omitted). Hence, while an ALJ's
decision need not be drafted with “ideal clarity,
” it must, at a minimum, set forth the ALJ's
reasoning “in a way that allows for meaningful
review.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487,
492 (9th Cir. 2015) (citing Treichler, 775 F.3d at
reviewing court may not conclude that an error was harmless
based on independent findings gleaned from the administrative
record. Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492 (citations
omitted). When a reviewing court cannot confidently conclude
that an error was harmless, a remand for additional
investigation or explanation is generally ...