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Trujillo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 22, 2019

GILBERT TRUJILLO, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NOS. 20, 21

          SUSAN VAN KEULEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Gilbert Alberto Trujillo, Jr. (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the Court REMANDS this matter for further administrative proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff seeks disability benefits for the period beginning January 2, 2009 and ending December 31, 2009. Dkt. 17 (Administrative Record (“AR”)) 17, 171. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on August 24, 2017, at which Plaintiff, a vocational expert, and a medical expert testified. AR 28-78. On October 25, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR 12-23. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, stasis dermatitis of the right leg, neuropathy, status post left great toe amputation, and obesity. AR 17. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. AR 18. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the limitation that he could only stand and walk for four hours total in a work day. AR 18. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled because he was capable of performing jobs that exist in the national economy, including those of a cashier, an assembler of electrical accessories, and an arcade attendant. AR 21-22.

         After the Appeals Council denied review, Plaintiff sought review in this Court. Dkt. 1. In accordance with Civil Local Rule 16-5, the Parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Dkt. 20 (“Pl. MSJ”); Dkt. 21 (“Def. MSJ”). All Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge. Dkts. 10, 15.

         II. ISSUES FOR REVIEW

1. Did the ALJ err is assigning “little weight” to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Tomas Valdez and Dr. Jan Lin?
2. Did the ALJ err in her credibility analysis of Plaintiff?
3. Did the ALJ err in determining that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of cashier, assembler of electrical accessories, or arcade attendant?

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court has the authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits, but “a federal court's review of Social Security determinations is quite limited.” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Federal courts “leave it to the ALJ to determine credibility, resolve conflicts in the testimony, and resolve ambiguities in the record.” Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         The Commissioner's decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on the application of improper legal standards. Id. at 492. “Under the substantial-evidence standard, a court looks to an existing administrative record and asks whether it contains sufficient evidence to support the agency's factual determinations, ” and this threshold is “not high.” Biestek v. Berryhill, __ U.S. __, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (internal quotation marks, citation, and alteration omitted); see also Rounds v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 807 F.3d 996, 1002 (9th Cir. 2015) (“Substantial evidence” means 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”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The Court “must consider the evidence as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion.” Rounds, 807 F.3d at 1002 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must uphold the ALJ's findings if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Id.

         Even if the ALJ commits legal error, the ALJ's decision will be upheld if the error is harmless. Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d at 492. But “[a] reviewing court may not make independent findings based on the evidence before the ALJ to conclude that the ALJ's error was harmless.” Id. The Court is “constrained to review the reasons the ALJ asserts.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         IV. ...


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