United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
(“plaintiff”) filed this action on October 24,
2018, 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 November 14, 2018, and December
3, 2018. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed
a Joint Submission (alternatively “JS”) on July
29, 2019, that addresses their positions concerning the
disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint
Submission under submission without oral argument.
was born in 1981. [Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 255.] He has past relevant work experience as an office
manager, as a football coach, and as a professional football
player. [Id. at 27, 34, 128-29.]
January 30, 2015, plaintiff filed an application for a period
of disability and DIB, alleging that he has been unable to
work since July 1, 2012. [Id. at 21; see
id. at 255.] After his application was denied initially
and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a request
for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). [Id. at 206-07.] A hearing was
held on July 6, 2017, at which time plaintiff appeared
represented by an attorney, and testified on his own behalf.
[Id. at 105-33.] A vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. [Id. at 127-31.]
On August 17, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that
plaintiff was not under a disability from July 1, 2012, the
alleged onset date, through August 17, 2017, the date of the
decision. [Id. at 21-34.] Plaintiff requested review
of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council.
[Id. at 40-43.] When the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review on August 29, 2018
[id. 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.
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 rely.” I d .
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also
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 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 since July 1, 2012, the alleged
onset date. [AR at 23.] At step two, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has the severe impairments of osteoarthritis;
status post total right hip arthroplasty; and a history of
multiple knee and shoulder surgeries. [Id.] The ALJ
also found that plaintiff's medically determinable
impairment of depressive disorder and his diagnosed
unspecified neurocognitive disorder,  do not cause more than
minimal limitation in his ability to perform basic mental
work activities and, therefore, are non-severe. [Id.
at 24-25.] 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 26.] The ALJ further found that
plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567,  as follows:
[He is] limited to frequent climbing of ramps or stairs,
balancing, and stooping. [He] is limited to occasional
crouching and crawling. [He] is precluded from climbing
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. [He] is limited to occasional
reaching overhead bilaterally and occasional pushing and
pulling with the right lower extremity.
[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 office manager
as actually and generally performed. [Id. at 34,
128-29.] Accordingly, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was
not disabled at any time from the alleged onset date of ...