United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
(“plaintiff”) filed this action on January 3,
2019, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) payments. The parties filed Consents to
proceed before a Magistrate Judge on January 31, 2019, and
February 20, 2019. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the
parties filed a Joint Submission (alternatively
“JS”) on September 5, 2019, that addresses their
positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The
Court has taken the Joint Submission under submission without
was born in 1954. [Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 208, 210.] She has past relevant work experience as an
administrative clerk. [Id. at 32, 45-47.]
protectively filed an application for a period of disability
and DIB, and an application for SSI payments, on January 9,
2015, and January 15, 2015, respectively, alleging that she
has been unable to work since February 28, 2013.
[Id. at 19; see also id. at 208-09,
210-16.] After her applications were denied initially and
upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a request for a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). [Id. at 140-42.] A hearing was
held on November 29, 2017, at which time plaintiff appeared
represented by an attorney, and testified on her own behalf.
[Id. at 40-67.] A vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. [Id. at 45-47,
63-66.] On February 2, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision
concluding that plaintiff was not under a disability from
February 28, 2013, the alleged onset date, through February
2, 2018, the date of the decision. [Id. at 19-34.]
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council. [Id. at 204-06.] When the Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review on November
6, 2018 [id. at 1-5], the ALJ's decision became
the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sam v.
Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008) (per
curiam) (citations omitted). This action followed.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to
review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The
decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application
of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622
F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
evidence . . . is ‘more than a mere scintilla[, ]'
. . . [which] means -- and means only -- ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Biestek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154, 203 L.Ed.2d 504 (2019)
(citations omitted); Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d
648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). “Where evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Revels,
874 F.3d at 654 (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). However, the Court “must consider the entire
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's
conclusion, and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.” Id. (quoting
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Court will
“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.” Id.
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also
SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 87, 63 S.Ct. 454, 87
L.Ed. 626 (1943) (“The grounds upon which an
administrative order must be judged are those upon which the
record discloses that its action was based.”).
EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or which has
lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months. Garcia v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 768 F.3d 925, 930 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)).
FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential
evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th
Cir. 2006) (citing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,
1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)). In the first step, the Commissioner
must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not
disabled and the claim is denied. Lounsburry, 468
F.3d at 1114. If the claimant is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limiting her ability to do basic work
activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and
the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of
impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R.
§ 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is
conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id.
If the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the
Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the claimant has sufficient “residual
functional capacity” to perform her past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that she
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). If the
claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of
disability is established. Id. The Commissioner then
bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not
disabled because there is other work existing in
“significant numbers” in the national or regional
economy the claimant can do, either (1) by the testimony of a
VE, or (2) by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 2.
Lounsburry, 468 F.3d at 1114. The determination of
this issue comprises the fifth and final step in the
sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 721, 828 n.5 (9th
Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 28, 2013, the
alleged onset date. [AR at 21.] At step two, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has the severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease in the cervical spine; bilateral shoulder
impingement; bilateral osteoarthritis of the knees; carpal
tunnel syndrome; and obesity. [Id. at 22.] He also
determined that plaintiff did not have a medically
determinable mental impairment. [Id. at 23.] At step
three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff does not have an
impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals any of the impairments in the Listing.
[Id.] The ALJ further found that plaintiff retained
the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b),
[Can] lift and/or carry, push and pull twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk
for four hours in an eight-hour workday, for one hour at a
time, then sit for a few minutes before standing and walking
again; could sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs but could not climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop,
kneel, crouch, or crawl; could do frequent handling and
fingering with bilateral upper extremities; and could do
occasional above-shoulder work with bilateral extremities.
[Id. at 24.] At step four, based on plaintiff's
RFC and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as an
administrative clerk. [Id. at 32.] He also
determined that plaintiff had learned transferable skills in
her past relevant work that would transfer to the job of
receptionist, a sedentary position that requires occasional
fingering bilaterally and frequent handling. [Id. at
33.] Accordingly, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not
disabled at any time from the alleged onset date of February
28, 2013, through February 2, 2018, the date of the decision.
[Id. at 34.]