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Elsa D. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 17, 2019

ELSA D., 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 Elsa D.[2] (“Plaintiff”) challenges the Defendant, Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security's (hereinafter “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denial of her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). The parties filed consents to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge [Docket “Dkt.” Nos. 7, 13] and briefs addressing disputed issues in the case [Dkt. No. 18 (“Pltf.'s Br.”), Dkt. No. 20 (“Def.'s Br.”), and Dkt. No. 21 (“Pltf.'s Reply”)]. The Court has taken the parties' briefing under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed and the case is remanded.

         II. PROCEEDINGS BELOW

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB under Title II and SSI under Title XVI on April 29, 2014, alleging disability beginning January 6, 2011. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 16; 398-408). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on July 23, 2014 (AR 261-69), and upon reconsideration on October 29, 2014 (AR 271-82). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Alan J. Markiewicz on November 8, 2016. (AR 333-58).

         On March 15, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act[3], since January 6, 2011.[4] (AR 13-37). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 20, 2017. (AR 1-7). Plaintiff then filed this action in District Court on December 14, 2017, challenging the ALJ's decision. [Dkt. No. 1].

         In the ALJ's decision of March 15, 2017 (AR 13-37), the ALJ followed the required five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act.[5] 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since April 29, 2014, the application date. (AR 19). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: disc disease of the cervical, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine; diabetes; and major depressive disorder. (AR 19). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “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.” (AR 20).

         The ALJ then found that Plaintiff had the following Residual Functional Capacity[6] (“RFC”):

[P]erform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except: the claimant can lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally, ten pounds frequently; the claimant can stand and walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday; the claimant can sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday; the claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; the claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; the claimant is limited to work involving simple repetitive tasks; and the claimant can have no more than occasional contact with coworkers and the public.

(AR 21).

         At step four, based on Plaintiff's RFC and the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 27).

         At step five, the ALJ found that, “[c]onsidering the claimant's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.” (AR 28). The ALJ accepted the vocational expert's testimony that claimant, given her age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as: Small parts assembler (DOT 706.684-022); Shoe packager (DOT 920.687-166); and Laundry sorter (DOT 361.687-014). (AR 28). As such, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was “not disabled”, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from April 29, 2014, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AR 29).

         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 ...


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