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Olson v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 18, 2019

LORI OLSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,[1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          DEBORAH BARNES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         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’s motion argues that the Administrative Law Judge erred by improperly rejecting plaintiff’s testimony and medical opinion evidence. 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.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In January of 2015, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) alleging disability beginning on September 9, 2010. (Transcript (“Tr.”) at 15, 154-55.) Plaintiff’s alleged impairments included lumbar spine surgery, chronic pain, and difficulty with postural activities. (Id. at 189.) Plaintiff’s application was denied initially, (id. at 79-83), and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 86-90.)

         Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on December 14, 2016. (Id. at 28-46.) Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and testified at the administrative hearing. (Id. at 28-30.) In a decision issued on February 27, 2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 23.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on March 31, 2016.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of September 9, 2010 through her date last insured of March 31, 2016 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairment: degenerative disc disease (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except she was able to stand/walk for 2 hours in an 8hour day for 15 minutes at a time before needing to sit; sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour day; occasionally push/pull with the left lower extremity; occasionally bend, stoop, crawl, kneel, crouch or climb stairs. She was to avoid hazards such as unprotected heights and moving machinery.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a dispatcher. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant’s residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. In the alternative, considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant also could have performed (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
8. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from September 9, 2010, the alleged onset date, through March 31, 2016, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).

(Id. at 17-23.)

         On January 5, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s February 27, 2017 decision. (Id. at 1-5.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on March 5, 2018. (ECF No. 1.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “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, proceed to step five.
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional capacity to perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. ...

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