United States District Court, S.D. California
ORDER: (1) DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Doc. No. 24], (2) GRANTING
DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Doc. No.
MARILYN L. HUFF, District Judge UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
August 23, 2018, Plaintiff Marjorie Lee Butcher, a
56-year-old woman, filed a complaint against Defendant Nancy
A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
seeking judicial review of an administrative denial of
disability benefits under the Social Security Act. (Doc. No.
1.) On December 21, 2018, the Acting Commissioner answered
Plaintiff’s complaint and lodged the administrative
record. (Doc. Nos. 8, 9.) On April 23, 2019, the Acting
Commissioner lodged an Amended Administrative Record. (Doc.
No. 19.) On June 19, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for
summary judgment, asking the Court to reverse the Acting
Commissioner’s final decision and remand for further
administrative proceedings. (Doc. No. 24.) On August 28,
2019, the Commissioner cross-moved for summary judgment,
asking the Court to affirm the Acting Commissioner’s
final decision. (Doc. No. 27.) On September 11, 2019,
Plaintiff filed a reply to the Commissioner’s Response.
(Doc. No. 29.) On September 18, 2019, the Commissioner
responded to Plaintiff’s Reply. (Doc. No. 30.) For the
reasons below, the Court GRANTS the
Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment and
DENIES Plaintiff’s motion for summary
1, 2014 Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II and Title XVI
application for a period of disability insurance benefits
alleging disability beginning September 30, 2012. (Doc. No.
19, AR 17.) The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) initially denied Plaintiff’s
application for benefits on October 14, 2014 and denied
reconsideration on March 27, 2015. (Id.) Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), which was held on May 28, 2015.
(Id.) Plaintiff testified at the hearing and was
represented by counsel. (Id.) The ALJ also heard
testimony from Bonnie Sinclair, an independent vocational
September 25, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision,
analyzing Plaintiff’s claim and determining that
Plaintiff had not met her burden of proof. (Id.) SSA
regulations require ALJs to use the following five-step
inquiry when determining whether an applicant qualifies for
disability benefits: (1) has the claimant been gainfully
employed since the time of the disability onset date; (2)
“is the claimant’s impairment severe”; (3)
“does the impairment ‘meet or equal’ one of
a list of specific impairments described in the regulations,
” and if not, what is the claimant’s residual
functional capacity (“RFC”); (4) is the
claimant capable of performing past relevant work; and (5)
“is the claimant able to do any other work.”
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir.
1999); see 20 C.F.R. §
the ALJ determined at step one that Plaintiff had not been
gainfully employed since the disability onset date of
September 30, 2012. (Doc. No. 19, AR 20.) At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairment:
degenerative disc disease of the spine. (Id.) At
step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that amounted to one
of the SSA regulations’ enumerated impairments.
(Id. AR 23–24.) The ALJ then determined that
Plaintiff had a RFC to perform the full range of “light
work, ” as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b).
(Id. AR 24.) At step four, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a
cashier or as a sales clerk. (Id. AR 28.)
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled from
September 30, 2012, the alleged onset date, through December
31, 2014, the date last insured. (Id. AR 29.) On
June 25, 2018, the Social Security Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review, rendering the
ALJ’s decision final. (Id. AR 1.)
The Social Security Administration’s Sequential
employs a sequential five-step evaluation to determine
whether a claimant is eligible for benefits under the Social
Security Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)–(v).
To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that he or she is “disabled, ” meaning that the
claimant is unable “to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result
in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see Johnson v. Shalala,
60 F.3d 1428, 1432 (9th Cir. 1995).
one in the sequential evaluation considers a claimant’s
“work activity, if any.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). An ALJ will deny a
claimant disability benefits if the claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” Id.
§§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).
claimant cannot provide proof of gainful work activity, the
ALJ proceeds to step two to ascertain whether the claimant
has a medically severe impairment or combination of
impairments. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii),
416.920(a)(4)(ii). The so-called “severity
regulation” dictates the ALJ’s step-two analysis.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140–41 (1987).
Specifically, an ALJ will deny a claimant’s disability
claim if the ALJ does not find that a claimant suffers from a
severe impairment, or combination of impairments, which
significantly limits the claimant’s physical or mental
ability to do “basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
impairment is severe, however, the evaluation proceeds to
step three. At step three, the ALJ determines whether the
impairment is equivalent to one of several enumerated
impairments that the SSA deems so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity. Id. §§
404.1520(d), 416.920(d). An ALJ conclusively presumes a
claimant is disabled if the impairment meets or equals one of
the enumerated impairments. Id.
ALJ concludes that a claimant does not suffer from one of the
SSA regulations’ enumerated severe impairments, the ALJ
must determine the claimant’s RFC before proceeding to
step four of the inquiry. Id. §§
404.1520(e), 416.920(e). An individual’s RFC is his or
her ability to do physical and mental work activities on a
sustained basis despite limitations from his or her
impairments. See id. §§ 404.1545(a)(1),
416.945(a)(1). The RFC analysis considers whether the
claimant’s “impairment(s), and any related
symptoms, such as pain, may cause physical and mental
limitations that affect what [the claimant] can do in a work
setting.” Id. In establishing a
claimant’s RFC, the ALJ must assess relevant medical