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Anita H. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 24, 2019

ANITA H., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Sheri Pym United States Magistrate Judge.

         I.

         INTRODUCTION

         On March 13, 2018, plaintiff Anita H. filed a complaint against defendant, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), seeking a review of a denial of period of disability, disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”). Both parties have consented to proceed for all purposes before the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

         Plaintiff presents two main issues for decision: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment was supported by substantial evidence; and (2) whether the ALJ properly evaluated plaintiff’s subjective complaints. Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff’s Complaint (“P. Mem.”) at 5-11; see Memorandum in Support of Defendant’s Answer (“D. Mem.”) at 3-9.

         Having carefully studied the parties’ written submissions, the decision of the ALJ, and the Administrative Record (“AR”), the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ’s RFC finding was not supported by substantial evidence, and the ALJ failed to properly evaluate plaintiff’s subjective complaints. The court therefore remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions set forth in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         II.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, who was 55 years old on her alleged disability onset date, completed ninth grade. AR at 51, 66. She has past relevant work as a home health attendant or caregiver and as a companion. Id. at 61.

         On June 26, 2014, plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits. Id. at 66. In the application, plaintiff alleges she has been disabled since March 1, 2010 due to high blood pressure, diabetes, low back pain, left leg problems, knee pain, osteoporosis arthritis on knees, and insomnia. Id. at 66-67. The Commissioner denied plaintiff’s application, after which plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration, which was denied. Id. at 90-96. Plaintiff then filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 97.

         On December 16, 2015, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 32-37. At the hearing, the parties determined plaintiff’s SSI application was not before the ALJ. Id. at 32. As such, the ALJ continued the hearing until the application could be located. Id. at 35-36. On October 13, 2016, plaintiff, represented by counsel, again appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 41-64. The ALJ now had plaintiff’s SSI and DIB applications, and the hearing proceeded. The ALJ also heard testimony from Susan L. Allison, a vocational expert (“VE”). Id. at 60-64. On January 30, 2017, the ALJ denied plaintiff’s claim for benefits. Id. at 17-26.

         Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. Id. at 22.

         At step two, the ALJ found plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis of knees, diabetes mellitus, neuropathy, and obesity. Id.

         At step three, the ALJ found plaintiff’s impairments, whether individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). Id. at 23.

         The ALJ then assessed plaintiff’s RFC, [1] and determined plaintiff had the RFC to perform less than the full range of light work, specifically, plaintiff could: lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit six hours in an eight-hour workday, with the ability to stand and stretch one to two minutes per hour; climb stairs; occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Id.

         The ALJ found, at step four, that plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a home health attendant and companion. Id. at 26. Consequently, the ALJ concluded plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. Id.

         Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ’s decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. Id. at 1-3. The ALJ’s decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         III.

         STANDARD ...


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