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Arthur C. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 23, 2019

ARTHUR C.,[1] Plaintiff,
ANDREW M.SAUL,[2] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         On September 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income pursuant to Title 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 action is remanded for further administrative proceedings.


         On March 4, 2013, an Administrative Law Judge ("prior ALJ") denied Plaintiffs disability claim by a written decision. (AR 151-61.) On September 12, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. (AR 166-70.) Plaintiff did not seek review in federal court of the prior ALJ's March 4, 2013 decision.

         On October 3, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed another application for Supplemental Security Income, which is the subject of this action. (Administrative Record [AR] 14, 288-94.) In this latest application, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on October 3, 2014 (AR 87) due to depression, severe lower back pain, high blood pressure, pain in both feet, severe neck pain, severe hip pain, anxiety, sleep apnea, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anger outbursts, and trouble getting along with people (AR 171-72, 189-90).

         After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ ("present ALJ" or "ALJ"). (AR 226-28.) At a hearing held on July 13, 2017, at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. (AR 80-98.)

         In a decision issued on October 16, 2017, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs application. (AR 14-25.) As a preliminary matter, the ALJ found that the prior ALJ's decision on March 4, 2013 had created a rebuttal presumption of continuing non-disability and that Plaintiff had failed to rebut the presumption by showing changed circumstances. (AR 14.)

         The ALJ then made the following findings pursuant to the Commissioner's five-step evaluation. Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date of October 3, 2014. (AR 16.) He had severe impairments consisting of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine. (AR 17.) 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. (AR 21.) He had a residual functional capacity to perform medium work. (Id.) He could no longer perform his past relevant work as a bus driver. (AR 23-24.) However, he could perform other work in the national economy, in the occupations of industrial cleaner, hand packager, and night cleaner. (AR25.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. (Id.)

         On July 13, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. (AR 1-7.) Thus, ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff timely filed this action on September 12, 2018. (ECF No. 1.)


         The parties raise the following disputed issue: whether the ALJ improperly rejected Plaintiffs testimony regarding pain and functional limitations. (ECF No. 24, Parties' Joint Stipulation ["Joint Stip."] at 2.)


         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. Per ales, 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 F.3d at 1035. Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's interpretation must be upheld. See Orn v. As true, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).


         I. Disputed Issues.

         A. Presumption of ...

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