United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT.
NOS. 21, 22
VAN KEULEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Marie Webb (“Plaintiff”) appeals from the final
decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her applications for
disability insurance benefits under Title II and Title XVI of
the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the
Court remands this matter for further administrative
seeks disability benefits for the period April 10, 2010
through March 31, 2014. See Dkt. 15 (Administrative
Record (“AR”)) 15, 17. An Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on September 25,
2017, at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified.
See AR 32-78. On April 3, 2018, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. See AR 15-30. The ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“congestive heart failure; obesity; substance addiction
disorder; depressive disorder; and left ankle
fracture.” 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.
See AR 18. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform less than the full range of light work with various
limitations. See AR 19. The ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled because she was capable of
performing jobs that exist in the national economy, including
those of an office helper, mail clerk, and cafeteria
attendant. See AR 29.
the Appeals Council denied review, Plaintiff sought review in
this Court. See generally Dkt. 1. In accordance with
Civil Local Rule 16-5, the Parties filed cross-motions for
summary judgment. See generally Dkts. 21, 22. All
Parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a magistrate
judge. See Dkts. 9, 10.
ISSUES FOR REVIEW
identifies a single issue for review. See generally
Dkt. 21. In addition, Court identifies a preliminary issue.
issue identified by the Court:
1. The ALJ identifies Plaintiff's left ankle fracture as
a severe impairment. However, Plaintiff's left ankle
fracture occurred outside of the covered period.
Additionally, without addressing the coverage issue, the ALJ
discounts the treating physician's opinion on the basis
of the physician's reliance on the fracture. Thus, there
is an ambiguity as to what the ALJ considered to be
Plaintiff's ankle impairment.
identified by Plaintiff:
2. Did the ALJ err in assigning greater weight to the
opinions of the non-examining state medical consultants and
the examining physician than the opinion of Plaintiff's
treating physician, Dr. Jenny Cohen?
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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.
Brown-Hunter, 806 F.3d 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 they are supported by inferences
reasonably drawn from the record.” Id.
(quoting Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th
the ALJ commits legal error, the ALJ's decision will be
upheld if the error is harmless. See 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). Additionally,
“the burden of showing that an error is harmful
normally falls upon the party attacking the agency's
determination.” Molina, 674 F.3d at 1111
(quoting Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409