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Consuelo F. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 23, 2019

CONSUELO F.,[1] Plaintiff
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security,[2] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GAIL J. STANDISH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Consuelo F. (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The parties filed consents to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge [Dkts. 11 and 12] and briefs [Dkt. 18 (“Pl. Br.”), Dkt. 19 (“Def. Br.”)] addressing disputed issues in the case. Plaintiff also filed a Statement of No. Reply. [Dkt. 20.] The matter is now ready for decision. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that this matter should be affirmed.

         II. ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION UNDER REVIEW

         Plaintiff originally filed an application for SSI on June 6, 2012 [AR 97]. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff not disabled in a written decision dated September 9, 2014. [AR 97-111.] Plaintiff did not appeal that decision, but instead filed a new application for SSI on November 19, 2014, this time alleging that she became disabled on September 10, 2014, the day after the original decision was filed. After the Commissioner denied her second application initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff had two hearings before a second ALJ. In a decision dated November 15, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. [AR 145-49, 154-59, 26-36, 37-56, 12-21.] The Appeals Council denied review. The present action followed.

         In the November 2017 decision under review, the ALJ first set forth in some detail the decision of the prior ALJ finding Plaintiff to be not disabled on September 9, 2014. The Court will address relevant portions of this earlier decision where appropriate below.

         The ALJ then applied the five-step sequential evaluation process for assessing disability based on the later-filed application. [AR 15-23.] See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 19, 2014 (the application date). [AR 15.] At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of lumbar spine degenerative disc disease and strain, obesity, and diabetes. [AR 15, citing 20 C.F.R. 416.920(c).] The ALJ determined at step three that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the impairments listed in Appendix I of the Regulations. [AR 17.] See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. Next, at step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b)). [AR 17.] At step five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not able to perform any of her past relevant work, which included work as a cooks helper (Dictionary of Occupational Titles No. 317.687-010), an unskilled occupation (SVP-2) requiring medium work both as performed by the claimant and as generally performed. [AR 20.] The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff was a person closely approaching advanced age on the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. 416.963), has a marginal education, and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 416.964). [AR 20.]

         Based on the above assessment, the ALJ determined that transferability of skills was not an issue in this case because Plaintiff's past relevant work was unskilled. [AR 21.] And, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. [AR 21.] Based on an RFC for the full range of light work, the ALJ determined that a finding of “not disabled” was directed by Medical-Vocational Rule 202.10. [AR 21.]

         Plaintiff claims the ALJ committed legal error in two regards. First, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in finding that she is able to communicate in English, and more specifically, that she is “literate.” [Pl. Br. at 3, 5-10.] Second, Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to articulate legally sufficient reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's statements and testimony regarding her level of pain and limitations. [Pl. Br. at 3, 10-14.] Plaintiff requests reversal and remand for further administrative proceedings. [Pl. Br. at 14.] Defendant asserts that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed. [Def. Br. at 8.]

         III. GOVERNING STANDARD

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Brewes v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal citation omitted). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted).

         The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. See Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination, or if despite the legal error, the agency's path may reasonably be discerned.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         1. The Principles Of R ...


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