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Kimberly C. v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. California

December 12, 2019

KIMBERLY C., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE RE: MOTION AND CROSS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF NOS. 13 AND 15]

          Hon. Mitchell D. Dembin, United States Magistrate Judge

         This Report and Recommendation is submitted to United States District Judge Larry A. Burns pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 72.1(c) of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

         Plaintiff Kimberly C. (“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final administrative decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”). (ECF No. 13-1 at 2).[2] The final administrative decision of the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Title II”) and for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Title XVI”). (AR 15).[3]

         For the reasons set forth herein, the Court RECOMMENDS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment be GRANTED IN PART, Defendant's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED, and that the case be REMANDED for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on May 26, 1962. (AR 570). At the time the instant application was filed on August 21, 2014, Plaintiff was 52 years-old which categorized her as a person closely approaching advanced age. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563, 416.963.

         A. Procedural History

         On August 21, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II. (AR 15). On August 1, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI. (Id.). The application alleged a disability beginning February 11, 2013. (Id.). After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id.). An administrative hearing was held on May 23, 2017. (Id.). Plaintiff appeared and was represented by attorney Yong Young. (AR 34). Testimony was taken from Plaintiff, impartial medical expert Arnold Ostrov, and from impartial vocational expert Connie Hillary. (AR 32-67). On July 6, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled from February 11, 2013 through the date of the decision and therefore denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits. (AR 25-26).

         On July 6, 2017, Plaintiff sought review with the Appeals Council. (AR 1). On September 12, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and declared the ALJ's decision to be the Commissioner's final decision in Plaintiff's case. (Id.). This timely civil action followed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Sections 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of the Social Security Act allow unsuccessful applicants to seek judicial review of a final agency decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The scope of judicial review is limited in that a denial of benefits will not be disturbed if it is supported by substantial evidence and contains no legal error. Id.; see also Batson v. Comm'r of the SSA, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).

         Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance. . . .” Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “[I]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). The court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions. Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). If the evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the ALJ's decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. When the evidence is inconclusive, “‘questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts in the testimony are functions solely of the Secretary.'” Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982) (quoting Waters v. Gardner, 452 F.2d 855, 858 n.7 (9th Cir. 1971)).

         Even if a reviewing court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion, the court must set aside the decision if the ALJ failed to apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and reaching his or her decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Section 405(g) permits a court to enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The reviewing court may also remand the matter to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings. Id.

         B. Summary of the ...


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