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Reyes v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 17, 2019

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



         For the reasons discussed below, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this matter is remanded for further administrative action consistent with this Opinion.


         On September 6, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Dkt. No. 1). On March 4, 2019, Defendant filed an Answer and the Administrative Record (“AR”). (Dkt. Nos. 16-17). On June 3, 2019, the parties filed a joint stipulation setting forth their respective positions regarding Plaintiff's claims. (“Joint Stip., ” Dkt. No. 18). The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 9, 22-23).


         On April 1, 2015, Plaintiff, formerly employed as a caregiver/companion and a psychiatric technician, constructively filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of May 1, 2007. (AR 202-18, 267). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on August 27, 2015, (AR 118, 145-49), and on reconsideration on December 8, 2015. (AR 141-42, 151-55).

         On June 15, 2017, Administrative Law Judge Henry Koltys (“ALJ”) heard testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and vocational expert (“VE”) Sharon Spaventa. (See AR 73-100). At the hearing, upon the ALJ's suggestion, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to “October 2014.” (AR 79-80). On October 3, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision acknowledging Plaintiff's amended onset date as October 1, 2014, and denying Plaintiff's application upon concluding that Plaintiff has not been disabled since that date. (See AR 52-57).

         The ALJ applied the requisite five-step process to evaluate Plaintiff's case. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2014, the amended alleged onset date. (AR 54). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and history of prostate cancer are severe impairments.[2] (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal a listing found in 20 C.F.R Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR 55).

         Next, before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)[3] to perform “medium work, ” except that he can “frequently climb ramps/stairs; frequently crawl [or] kneel; [and] occasionally stoop, crouch, climb ladders, ropes, [and] scaffolds.” (Id.). At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is capable of performing his past relevant work as a companion and psychiatric technician. (AR 57). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. (Id.).

         Following the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff submitted a request for review to the Appeals Council (AR 198-200), along with a supporting brief from his attorney (AR 337), and additional medical evidence (AR 25-47, 62-63). On July 12, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision. (See AR 1-4). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).


         This Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C § 405(g); see Carmickle v. Comm'r, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Jamerson v. Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1997)). It is relevant evidence “which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hoopai, 499 F.3d at 1074; Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, “a court must ‘consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.' ” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted); see Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (inferences “reasonably drawn from the record” can constitute substantial evidence).

         This Court “may not affirm [the Commissioner's] decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of support evidence, but must also consider evidence that detracts from [the Commissioner's] conclusion.” Ray v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 914, 915 (9th Cir. 1987) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). However, the Court cannot disturb findings supported by substantial evidence, even though there may exist other evidence supporting the plaintiff's claim. See Torske v. Richardson, 484 F.2d 59, 60 (9th Cir. 1973). “If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the [Commissioner's] conclusion, [a] court may not substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner].” Reddick, 157 F.3d 715, 720-21 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).


         PLAINTIFF alleges that (1) the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical evidence; (2) the ALJ erred in assessing Plaintiff's subjective symptoms; and (3) the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence in light of additional ...

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