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Navin K.S. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 9, 2019

NAVIN K. S., [1] Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Navin K. S. (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Commissioner's denial of his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


         On October 7, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for DIB alleging disability beginning March 24, 2015. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 56-57.) His application was denied on November 6, 2015. (AR 76.) Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing, and a hearing was held on February 8, 2018. (AR 29, 87.) Represented by counsel, Plaintiff appeared and testified, along with an impartial vocational expert. (AR 33-49.) On March 21, 2018, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act, [2] from March 24, 2015 through June 30, 2016. (AR 24.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1.) Plaintiff filed this action on December 28, 2018. (Dkt. No. 1.)

         The ALJ followed a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act. See Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 24, 2015, the alleged onset date (“AOD”), through June 30, 2016, the date last insured (“DLI”). (AR 17.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine status post fracture at the C7 level; chronic headaches and dizziness post motor vehicle accident with concussion in March 2015; and hearing loss in right ear requiring hearing aid. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.” (AR 19.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to:

[P]erform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except he is restricted from climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds but remains capable of occasionally climbing ramps and stairs. He is also able to frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. However, he requires the use of a cane for all ambulation over 100 feet. He is precluded from working around hazards such as machinery and unprotected heights. Lastly, due to his hearing loss, he is capable of working in a moderate voice environment.


         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 22.) At step five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is “capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.” (AR 24.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from the AOD through the DLI. (Id.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. A court must affirm an ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence and if the proper legal standards were applied. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001). “‘Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). An ALJ can satisfy the substantial evidence requirement “by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

         “[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Secretary's conclusion.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “‘Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation,' the ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)); see Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (“If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.”). The Court may review only “the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003)).


         Plaintiff raises two issues for review: (1) whether the ALJ properly considered the relevant medical evidence of record in assessing Plaintiff's RFC; and (2) whether the ALJ has properly considered Plaintiff's subjective testimony in assessing the RFC. (See Joint Submission (“JS”) 4.) For the reasons below, the Court affirms.

         A. The ALJ Properly Evaluated Plaintiff's Subjective Complaints [3]

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons for rejecting his subjective testimony. (See JS 11-13.) The Commissioner contends that the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's testimony. (See JS 13-18.)

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified that he completed high school plus two years of college where he studied automobile engineering. (AR 36.) His most recent work is from 2014 and includes taking care of a family member and self-employment work on cars. (AR 38, 39.)

         Plaintiff lives in his own one-story home, with his wife and three children, mother, father, and brother. (AR 36-37.) Plaintiff has his brother or son drive him places. (AR 37.) Most of the time Plaintiff's brother will drive him to doctor's appointments but if his brother cannot take him, Plaintiff takes his son out of school to drive Plaintiff to doctor's appointments. (AR 37.)

         In March 2015, Plaintiff was hit by a car while exiting his vehicle. (AR 40.) Plaintiff testified that upon impact with the car, he was thrown twenty-seven feet away. (Id.) Plaintiff was in a coma. (Id.) Plaintiff was treated at Riverside County Regional and released home after Plaintiff “fought with the doctor to release [him] home” instead of being released to rehabilitation. (Id.)

         Plaintiff testified that he is always in pain. (AR 42.) He sometimes has good days, but most days the pain causes him to lay down two or three times a day. (Id.) Plaintiff has four or more bad days in a week. (AR 47.) On a bad day, Plaintiff states that he has to stay in bed, and he is not able to go to the store. (Id.)

         Plaintiff also experiences dizziness, headaches, problems with memory, and inability to focus. (AR 42, 44.) Plaintiff asserts that the back and head pain, headaches, and dizziness he feels has been the same since the date of the accident. (AR 42-43.) Plaintiff has not had any other accidents or injuries. (AR 43.) He receives injections for his back pain. (AR 41-42.) The injections are effective for about three or four days. ...

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