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Jaquez v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 13, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         On March 14, 2018, Plaintiff Jose Raul Jaquez (“Plaintiff”), proceeding in forma pauperis and with counsel, filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment and Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 15.) On July 2, 2019, Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied and that Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment be granted. (Dkt. No. 20.) Plaintiff filed an objection on July 16, 2019. (Dkt. No. 21.) After careful consideration of the R&R, the objections, the pleadings, the supporting documents, and the applicable law, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, and GRANTS Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.


         On October 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”) alleging a disability date of April 24, 2013. (Dkt. No. 12, Administrative Record (“AR”) 328-35; 336-41.) Plaintiff alleged disability based on diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, high blood pressure, blood clot on both eyes and surgery on both eyes. (AR 356.) Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on December 12, 2013, (AR 228), and again upon reconsideration on February 20, 2014. (AR 235.)

         On May 29, 2014, Plaintiff filed a written request for an administrative hearing. (AR 243.) On April 1, 2016, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified before Administrative Law Judge Peter J. Valentino. (AR 122-61.) On May 9, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined under Title II and Title VI of the Act. (AR 17-31.) On January 24, 2018, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-3.)

         On March 14, 2018, Plaintiff commenced the instant action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (Dkt. No. 1.) On June 8, 2018, Defendant answered and lodged the administrative record with the Court. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 12.) On July 13, 2018, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 14.) On August 15, 2018, the Commissioner cross-moved for summary judgment and responded in opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Dkt. Nos. 15, 16.) On September 10, 2018, Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment and a reply to his motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 18.) On October 1, 2018, the Commissioner filed a reply. (Dkt. No. 19.) On July 2, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued its R&R and Plaintiff filed an objection on July 16, 2019. (Dkt. No. 21.)

         The ALJ Decision

         ALJ Peter J. Valentino applied the five-step sequential framework to determine that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 53-64.) He began the analysis finding Plaintiff met the insured status requirement through March 31, 2018. (AR 55.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial, gainful activity since April 24, 2013. (AR 55.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has had the following severe impairments: diabetic retinopathy secondary to insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. (AR 55.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR 57.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except he is limited to “single eye vision; sans depth perception' sans hazards (such as heights and dangerous machinery); sans concentrated exposure to chemicals or fumes; requires dark glasses for vision protection against bright light; is limited to occasional reaching, handling, and fingering; and occasional fine visual acuity.” (AR 58.) Based on the RFC, it was concluded that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 61.) Plaintiff is a younger individual, 29 years old, with limited education and the ability to communicate in English. (AR 61.) At step five, the ALJ determined that considering Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience, the jobs of usher and counter clerk exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform. (AR 62.) Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from April 23, 2013 through the date of the decision. (AR 63.)


         A. Standard of Review of Magistrate Judge's R&R

         The district court's duties in connection with an R&R of a magistrate judge are set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The district judge must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made, ” and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The district court need not review de novo those portions of an R&R to which neither party objects. See Wang v. Masaitis, 416 F.3d 992, 1000 n. 13 (9th Cir. 2005); United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 114, 1121-22 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc). When no objections are filed, the Court may assume the correctness of the magistrate judge's findings of fact and decide the motion on the applicable law. Campbell v. United States Dist. Ct., 501 F.2d 196, 206 (9th Cir. 1974); Johnson v. Nelson, 142 F.Supp.2d 1215, 1217 (S.D. Cal. 2001). Because Plaintiff filed an objection, the Court conducts a de novo review of the portions of the R&R to which he opposes and assumes the correctness of the Magistrate Judge's findings of fact of the portions of the R&R to which he does not oppose.

         B. Standard of Review of the Commissioner's Decision

         A court “will disturb the denial of benefits only if the decision contains legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence.” Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as reasonable to support a conclusion.” Id. The “evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance.” Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). “When evidence reasonably supports either confirming or reversing the ALJ's decision, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.” Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1196 (9th Cir. 2004).

         The court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions. Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). When the evidence is inconclusive, “questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts in the testimony are functions solely for the Secretary.” Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982).

         C. ...

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