United States District Court, N.D. California, Eureka Division
ORDER ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT.
NOS. 22, 23, 24
M. ILLMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Miguel Carlos Patricio, seeks judicial review of an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) decision denying
his application for benefits under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. Plaintiff’s request for review of the
ALJ’s unfavorable decision was denied by the Appeals
Council, thus, the ALJ’s decision is the “final
decision” of the Commissioner of Social Security, which
this court may review. See 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(3). Both parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of a magistrate judge (dkts. 3 & 12), and
both parties have moved for summary judgment (dkts. 22, 23
& 34). For the reasons stated below, the court
will grant Plaintiff’s amended motion for summary
judgment and will deny Defendant’s motion for summary
findings “as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). A district court has a limited scope of review and
can only set aside a denial of benefits if it is not
supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal
error. Flaten v. Sec’y of Health & Human
Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 979 (9th Cir.
1997). “In determining whether the Commissioner’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence, ” a
district court must review the administrative record as a
whole, considering “both the evidence that supports and
the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner’s
conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715,
720 (9th Cir. 1998). The Commissioner’s conclusion is
upheld where evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d
676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
initially filed applications for Title XVI benefits, which
were denied at hearings on March 5, 2010, and on November 29,
2012. See Administrative Record
“AR” at 50 & 60. On June 25, 2013,
Plaintiff filed another application for benefits alleging an
onset date of December 1, 2012. AR at 20. The ALJ
denied the application on February 7, 2017, finding that
Plaintiff had not sufficiently rebutted the presumption of
continuing non-disability pursuant to Social Security
Acquiescence Ruling (AR) 97-4(9) and Chavez v.
Bowen, 844 F.2d 691 (9th Cir. 1988). Id. at
20-27. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request
for review on March 19, 2018. Id. at 1-6.
OF THE RELEVANT EVIDENCE
filed his most recent application for benefits, Plaintiff was
49 years old and had suffered chronic homelessness for the
previous 20 years. AR at 20 & 482. In his
application for disability, Plaintiff alleged that he
suffered from the following physical and mental impairments:
back and neck pain, fibromyalgia, hernia, kidney problems,
cyst in kidney, migraines, chemical sensitivity, neurological
problems, anxiety, depression, Somatic Symptom Disorder, and
Personality Disorder. Id. at 20, 97-101, 108-13,
216-28, 182-92, 241, 269, 426-27, 482. Plaintiff presented
many of these impairments at a hearing before an ALJ in
support of his application for benefits in 2012, following
which the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision that included a
finding that Plaintiff suffered the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint
disease, a major depressive disorder, and marijuana
dependence. Id. at 53.
that hearing, Plaintiff filed a new application for benefits,
in which he presented new evidence in support of the
additional impairments of an anxiety disorder, Somatic
Symptom Disorder, and Personality Disorder. Specifically, in
April of 2014, agency examiner Jodi D. Snyder, PsyD,
diagnosed Plaintiff with Depressive Disorder, Major
Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and GAD. Id.
at 427. On August 27, 2014, Plaintiff was examined by
Elizabeth Walser, MSW, Psy.D. and Lesleigh Franklin, PhD, who
diagnosed Plaintiff with Major Depressive Disorder, without
Psychotic Features; Somatic Symptom Disorder, Persistent,
Severe; Other Specified Personality Disorder, with Mixed
Personality Features; and Allergies, Unspecified.
Id. at 488. Dr. Franklin prescribed Baclofen for
muscle spasms, Amitriptyline for depression and pain,
Loratadine for allergies, Montelukast for
bronchoconstriction, Fluticasone nasal spray, and Ibuprofen
for pain. Id. at 483.
FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS FOR DETERMINING
person filing a claim for social security disability benefits
(“the claimant”) must show that she has the
“inability to do any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment” which has lasted or is expected to last for
twelve or more months. See 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.909. The ALJ must consider all
evidence in the claimant’s case record to determine
disability (see id. § 416.920(a)(3)), and must
use a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine
whether the claimant is disabled (see id. §
416.920). “[T]he ALJ has a special duty to fully and
fairly develop the record and to assure that the
claimant’s interests are considered.” Brown
v. Heckler, 713 F.2d 441, 443 (9th Cir. 1983). Here, the
ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s application for benefits
under the required five-step sequential evaluation process.
AR at 20-27. At Step One, the claimant bears the
burden of showing he has not been engaged in
“substantial gainful activity” since the alleged
date the claimant became disabled. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(b). If the claimant has worked and the work is
found to be substantial gainful activity, the claimant will
be found not disabled. See id. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the application date. AR at 22.
Two, the claimant bears the burden of showing that he has a
medically severe impairment or combination of impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c).
“An impairment is not severe if it is merely ‘a
slight abnormality (or combination of slight abnormalities)
that has no more than a minimal effect on the ability to do
basic work activities.’” Webb v.
Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting
S.S.R. No. 96–3(p) (1996)). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease; degenerative joint disease;
affective disorders diagnosed as a depressive disorder and
anxiety disorder. AR at 23.
Three, the ALJ compares the claimant’s impairments to
the impairments listed in appendix 1 to subpart P of part
404. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii), (d).
The claimant bears the burden of showing her impairments meet
or equal an impairment in the listing. Id. If the
claimant is successful, a disability is presumed and benefits
are awarded. Id. If the claimant is unsuccessful,
the ALJ assesses the claimant’s residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) and proceeds to Step Four.
See id. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), (e). Here, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one
of the listed impairments. AR at 23. Next, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC “to perform
light work . . . with occasional bilateral overhead reaching,
” with an ability to “perform simple routine
tasks equating to unskilled work with occasional public
contact.” Id. at 24.
Four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant
work, but upon considering Plaintiff’s age, education,
work experience and RFC, and with the aid of the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff could perform some “jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy.”
Id. at 26. Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
“ha[d] not been under a disability, as defined in ...