United States District Court, C.D. California
HONORABLE JACQUELINE CHOOLJIAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
December 10, 2018, plaintiff Adriana H. filed a complaint
seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's
denial of plaintiff's application for benefits. The
parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned
United States Magistrate Judge.
matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions
for summary judgment, respectively (“Plaintiff's
Motion”) and (“Defendant's Motion”)
(collectively “Motions”). The Court has taken the
Motions under submission without oral argument. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; L.R. 7-15; December 19, 2018 Case Management
Order ¶ 5.
on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision
of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The findings of the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) are supported by
substantial evidence and are free from material error.
BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION
31, 2014, plaintiff protectively filed an application for
Supplemental Security Income, alleging disability beginning
on March 20, 2008, due to fibromyalgia, major depressive
disorder, chronic pain disorder, an inability to concentrate,
and numbness in both feet. (Administrative Record
(“AR”) 31, 193-98, 211). The ALJ examined the
medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was
represented by counsel) and a vocational expert. (AR 50-86).
November 2, 2017, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not
disabled from July 31, 2014 (the protective filing date),
through the date of the decision. (AR 31-43). Specifically,
the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following
severe impairments: agoraphobia with panic disorder, a
depressive disorder (not otherwise specified), a conversion
disorder, myalgic and arthralgic symptoms of unclear
etiology, and obesity (AR 33); (2) plaintiff's
impairments, considered individually or in combination, did
not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 35); (3)
plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to
perform light work (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b),
416.967(b)) with additional limitations (i.e., she
can engage in occasional postural activity except she can
frequently climb and balance, she must avoid moderate
exposure to odor dust, fumes, dust and gases, and she is
limited to performing simple routine tasks) (AR 35-42; (4)
plaintiff has no past relevant work (AR 42); and (5) there
are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that plaintiff could perform, specifically booth
cashier (DOT 211.462-010), counter clerk (DOT 249.366-010,
with 35, 000 jobs nationally), and folding machine operator
(DOT 208.685-014, with 50, 000 jobs nationally) (AR 42-43).
October 16, 2018, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
application for review. (AR 1-5).
APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
Administrative Evaluation of Disability Claims
qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that
she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)) (internal quotation marks
omitted); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905. To be
considered disabled, a claimant must have an impairment of
such severity that she is incapable of performing work the
claimant previously performed (“past relevant
work”) as well as any other “work which exists in
the national economy.” Tackett v. Apfel, 180
F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. §
assess whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required to
use the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in
Social Security regulations. See Stout v. Commissioner,
Social Security Administration, 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th
Cir. 2006) (describing five-step sequential evaluation
process) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920).
The claimant has the burden of proof at steps one through
four - i.e., determination of whether the claimant
was engaging in substantial gainful activity (step 1), has a
sufficiently severe impairment (step 2), has an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one
of the conditions listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (“Listings”) (step 3), and retains the
residual functional capacity to perform past relevant work
(step 4). Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The Commissioner has the
burden of proof at step five - i.e., establishing
that the claimant could perform other work in the national
Federal Court Review of Social Security Disability
federal court may set aside a denial of benefits only when
the Commissioner's “final decision” was
“based on legal error or not supported by substantial
evidence in the record.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Trevizo v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir.
2017) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The standard of
review in disability cases is “highly
deferential.” Rounds v. Commissioner of Social
Security Administration, 807 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th Cir.
2015) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Thus, an
ALJ's decision must be upheld if the evidence could
reasonably support either affirming or reversing the
decision. Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 674-75 (citations
omitted). Even when an ALJ's decision contains error, it
must be affirmed if the error was harmless. See Treichler
v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 775
F.3d 1090, 1099 (9th Cir. 2014) (ALJ error harmless if (1)
inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination;
or (2) ALJ's path may reasonably be discerned despite the
error) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 674 (defining
“substantial evidence” as “more than a mere
scintilla, but less than a preponderance”) (citation
and quotation marks omitted). When determining whether
substantial evidence supports an ALJ's finding, a 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[.]”
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
courts review only the reasoning the ALJ provided, and may
not affirm the ALJ's decision “on a ground upon
which [the ALJ] did not rely.” Trevizo, 871
F.3d at 675 (citations omitted). Hence, while an ALJ's
decision need not be drafted with “ideal clarity,
” it must, at a minimum, set forth the ALJ's
reasoning “in a way that allows for meaningful
review.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487,
492 (9th Cir. 2015) (citing Treichler, 775 F.3d at
reviewing court may not conclude that an error was harmless
based on independent findings gleaned from the administrative
record. Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492 (citations
omitted). When a reviewing court cannot confidently conclude
that an error was harmless, a remand for additional
investigation or explanation is generally appropriate.
See Marsh v. Colvin, 792 F.3d 1170, 1173 (9th Cir.
2015) (citations omitted).
does not challenge the ALJ's summary or assessment of her
physical impairments. (Plaintiff's Motion at 5).
Plaintiff contends that substantial evidence does not support
the ALJ's mental residual functional capacity assessment
and step five determination. (Plaintiff's Motion at
12-22). Neither contention merits reversal or remand.
Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's Mental Residual
Functional Capacity Assessment
contends that the ALJ's mental residual functional
capacity assessment is not supported by substantial evidence
because no doctor considered how plaintiff's conversion
disorder, in combination with her agoraphobia and depressive
disorder, would impact her abilities and limitations.
(Plaintiff's Motion at 12-13). As detailed below, the
record belies plaintiff's contention - the State agency
review physician considered these diagnoses in opining that
plaintiff is a capable of simple work. Plaintiff has not
shown that a reversal or remand is required on this basis.
Summary of the ...