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Conrad L. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 18, 2019

CONRAD L.,[1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [2] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

          MARIA A. AUDERO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On August 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. This matter is fully briefed and ready for decision. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's final decision is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further administrative proceedings.

         ADMINISTRATIVE BACKGROUND

         On February 27, 2013, Plaintiff filed applications Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging disability beginning on October 31, 2010. (Administrative Record [AR] 101, 110, 143.) Plaintiff alleged disability because of lower back problems. (AR101, 110.) After Plaintiff s applications were denied initially (AR 101-18) and upon reconsideration (AR 121-40), and after an administrative hearing (AR 48-75), an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied the applications in a decision issued on December 28, 2015 (AR 146-155).

         On February 28, 2017, the Appeals Council granted review, vacated the ALJ's decision, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. (AR 163-65.) The Appeals Council directed the ALJ to obtain additional evidence concerning Plaintiffs physical and mental impairments, give further consideration to Plaintiffs maximum residual functional capacity, and obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert. (AR 163-64.) On July 14, 2017, the ALJ held an administrative hearing. (AR 76-100.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with counsel, and the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 77.)

         In a decision issued on September 19, 2017, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs applications after making the following findings pursuant to the Commissioner's five-step evaluation. (AR 15-29.) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of October 31, 2010. (AR 18.) He had severe impairments consisting of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status post fusion; spondylosis; post laminectomy syndrome; depressive disorder, not otherwise specified; and anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified. (AR 19.) He did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the requirements of one of the impairments from the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments. (Id.) He had a residual functional capacity to perform "a less than light level of exertional work" with a limitation to simple, repetitive tasks in a non-public setting with only occasional and superficial interaction with coworkers, and no work in a team setting. (AR 21.) Based on this residual functional capacity, Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work as a material handler or an athletic trainer. (AR 27.) However, Plaintiff could perform other work in the national economy, in the occupations of marker, routing clerk, and photocopy machine operator. (AR 28.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. (Id.)

         On June 15, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. (AR 1-6.) Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         DISPUTED ISSUES

         The parties raise three disputed issues:

         1. "Whether the ALJ properly considered the treating physician's opinion."

         2. "Whether the ALJ conducted a proper residual functional capacity assessment."

         3. "Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff s testimony." (ECF No. 23, Parties' Joint Stipulation ["Joint Stip."] at 3.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Treichler v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin.,775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" but less than a preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The Court must review the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Lingenfelter, 504 ...


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