United States District Court, E.D. California
JOSE M. ARANA, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§
401-34. For the reasons that follow,
plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be DENIED,
and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment will be
applied for DIB on December 30, 2016. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 24, 142. The disability onset date was
alleged to be April 9, 2014. Id. at 99. The
application was disapproved initially and on reconsideration.
Id. at 96. On February 18, 2018, ALJ Serena Hong
presided over the hearing on plaintiff's challenge to the
disapprovals. AR 94-124 (transcript). Plaintiff appeared with
his counsel Richard A. Whitaker. AR 96. Robert Rathky, a
Vocational Expert (“VE”), also testified at the
hearing by telephone. Id. at 96, 118.
April 9, 2018, the ALJ found plaintiff “not
disabled” under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of Title II
of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d). AR 13-24
(decision), 25-29 (exhibit list). On July 17, 2018, after
receiving Exhibit B30E, Representative Brief dated May 10,
2018, and Exhibit B14B, Request for Review dated May 14,
2018, as additional exhibits, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's
decision as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security. AR 1-6 (decision and additional exhibit list).
filed this action on August 16, 2018. ECF No. 1; see 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties consented to the
jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. ECF Nos. 5, 6. The
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, based upon
the Administrative Record filed by the Commissioner, have
been fully briefed. ECF Nos. 15 (plaintiff's summary
judgment motion), 17 (Commissioner's summary judgment
motion), 20 (plaintiff's reply).
was born in 1963 and accordingly was, at age 49 and eight
months, a younger person under the regulations at his alleged
disability onset date of June 19, 2013. AR 125. Plaintiff
has at least a high school education and can communicate in
English. AR 744, 928. Plaintiff was in the U.S. Army Reserves
from 1981 to 2009 and worked as a postmaster for the U.S.
Postal Service from 1984 to 2014. AR 419. Plaintiff was
deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005. AR 115-16.
Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled
will be upheld “if it is supported by substantial
evidence and if the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards.” Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart,
341 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2003). “‘The
findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . ..'”
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” but
“may be less than a preponderance.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “It
means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal quotation
marks omitted). “While inferences from the record can
constitute substantial evidence, only those ‘reasonably
drawn from the record' will suffice.” Widmark
v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)
(citation omitted). Although this court cannot substitute its
discretion for that of the Commissioner, the court
nonetheless must review the record as a whole,
“weighing both the evidence that supports and the
evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's]
conclusion.” Desrosiers v. Secretary of HHS,
846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); Jones v. Heckler,
760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (“The court must
consider both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion; it may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving
ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). “Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). 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); Connett v.
Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003) (“It
was error for the district court to affirm the ALJ's
credibility decision based on evidence that the ALJ did not
court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it
is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is
“clear from the record that an ALJ's error was
‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.'” Robbins v. Commissioner,
466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Stout v.
Commissioner, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006));
see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income are
available for every eligible individual who is
“disabled.” 42 U.S.C. §§
402(d)(1)(B)(ii) (DIB), 1381a (SSI). Plaintiff is
“disabled” if he is “‘unable to
engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment . . ..'”
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987) (quoting
identically worded provisions of 42 U.S.C. §§
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine whether an applicant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4); Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20,
24-25 (2003) (setting forth the “five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine disability” under Title
II and Title XVI). The following summarizes the sequential
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not,
proceed to step two.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b).
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe”
impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, the
claimant is not disabled.
Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c).
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination
of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is