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Turner v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 18, 2019

TERRANCE TURNER, 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 improperly rejected 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

         On October 7, 2014, plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act alleging disability beginning on December 2, 2013. (Transcript (“Tr.”) at 24, 63.) Plaintiff’s alleged impairments included “right hand is useless due to gunshot, ” and damages to left ankle tendons. (Id. at 63.) Plaintiff’s applications were denied initially, (id. at 121-25), and upon reconsideration. (Id. at 128-32.)

         Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on November 29, 2016. (Id. at 42-62.) Plaintiff was represented by an attorney and testified at the administrative hearing. (Id. at 42-44.) In a decision issued on March 22, 2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 36.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2016. (Exhibit 4D).
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 2, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: arthritis and ligament tears in left ankle; status post gunshot wound to right hand (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant cannot climb ladders. The claimant must avoid hazards, such as unprotected heights and moving machinery. The claimant must avoid uneven terrain. He cannot crawl. He can occasionally
push, pull, handle and finger with the dominant right upper extremity. The claimant requires the use an (sic) assistive device whenever standing or walking.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born [in] 1979 and was 34 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964). (Exhibit 11F/72).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 2, 2013, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(Id. at 26-36.)

         On April 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ’s March 22, 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 May 23, 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 ...

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