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Nunes v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 24, 2019

AARON EDWARD NUNES, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 13 & 16. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner’s motion is granted and plaintiff’s motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB, alleging that he had been disabled since April 14, 2012. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 167. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 90-93, 96-100. A hearing was held before administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Carol L. Buck. Id. at 33-63.

         On October 20, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Act.[1] Id. at 18-26. The ALJ made the following specific findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 14, 2012, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairment: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with spinal stenosis and lumbar radiculopathy (20 CFR 404.1520(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 and 404.1526).
* * *
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) specifically as follows: the claimant can lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; the claimant can stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; the claimant can climb ramps and stairs, kneel, crouch and crawl frequently; the claimant can climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds and stoop occasionally; the claimant can balance with no limitations and the claimant must avoid exposure to vibrations.
* * *
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a produce clerk. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant’s residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
* * *
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 14, 2012, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).

Id. at 20-27.

         Plaintiff’s request for Appeals Council review was denied on November 21, 2017, leaving the ALJ’s decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 1-3.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         The Commissioner’s decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record and the proper legal standards were applied. Schneider v. Comm’r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 2000); Morgan v. Comm’r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999).

         The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. See Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521 (9th Cir. 1996). “‘It means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

         “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). “Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ’s decision, the ALJ’s conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff offers five arguments as to how the ALJ erred. First, he claims that the ALJ failed to consider and assess various documented medical conditions at step two. Second, he claims the ALJ erred in failing to explicitly weigh the combined impacts of all his impairments at step three. Third, he claims that the ALJ made multiple errors in weighing medical opinions of both Dr. Hanley, plaintiff’s chiropractor, and the state agency physicians. Fourth, he claims that the ALJ failed to provide adequate reasons for disregarding his testimony regarding his pain and ...


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