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Nha H. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 16, 2019

NHA H., an Individual, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THE HONORABLE AUTUMN D. SPAETH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Nha H.[2] (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (hereinafter “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denial of her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and this matter is dismissed with prejudice.

         II. PROCEEDINGS BELOW

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on March 22, 2011, alleging disability beginning February 1, 2009. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 181-82). Plaintiff claimed she was unable to work because of: leg problems, limping, weakness, numbness and tingling of legs. (AR 205-10). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on August 11, 2011 (AR 80-83), and upon reconsideration on November 22, 2011 (AR 86-90). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Keither Dietterle on June 4, 2013. (AR 37-58). On June 21, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act[3], since February 1, 2009. (AR 21-36). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 18, 2014. (AR 1-6).

         Plaintiff then filed an action in District Court on February 10, 2015, challenging the ALJ's decision. (AR 470-77). On December 11, 2015, the Court reversed and remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. (AR 478-93). Another hearing was held on May 25, 2017, this time before ALJ Alan J. Markiewicz. (AR 406-47). On September 29, 2017, the ALJ again found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act, since February 1, 2009. (AR 381-405). Plaintiff filed this action on December 1, 2017. [Docket (“Dkt.”) No. 1].

         In the ALJ's decision of September 29, 2017 (AR 381-99), the ALJ followed the required five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act.[4] At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of February 1, 2009 through her date last insured of September 30, 2013. (AR 387). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: disc disease of the cervical spine; and history of fracture and open reduction and internal fixation of the right ankle. (AR 387). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled 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.” (AR 389-90).

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the following Residual Functional Capacity[5] (“RFC”):

[P]erform a range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). Specifically, the claimant was able to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently; sit for six hours out of an eight-hour day; and stand or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour day. She could occasionally use the upper extremities for pushing and pulling; she could frequently climb stairs and occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and can occasionally crawl. She could occasionally reach overhead bilaterally with the upper extremities, but had to avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights or dangerous or fast-moving machinery.

(AR 390).

         At step four, based on Plaintiff's RFC and the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as an electronic assembler as generally and actually performed, stating: “[t]his work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity.” The ALJ did not proceed to step five. (AR 397-98). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from February 1, 2009 through September 30, 2013. (AR 398).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 ...


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