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Jessica M v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 16, 2019

JESSICA M., [1] Plaintiff
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's (“Commissioner”) denial of her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The parties filed consents to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge [Dkts. 12, 13] and briefs addressing disputed issues in the case [Dkt. 21 (“Pl.'s Br.”) and Dkt. 25 (“Def.'s Br.”)]. The Court has taken the parties' briefing under submission without oral argument. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that this matter should be affirmed.


         On October 9, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of April 1, 2010. [Dkt. 17, Administrative Record (“AR”) 17, 71-72.] The Commissioner denied her claim for benefits on March 10, 2015. [AR 168, 175.] On January 10, 2017, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) James D. Goodman. [AR 56-84.] On June 27, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's request for benefits. [AR 17-31.] Plaintiff requested review from the Appeals Council, which denied review on July 24, 2017. [AR 1-5.]

         Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(b)-(g)(1). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. [AR 20 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.971).] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, osteoarthritis, and depression. [Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)).] The ALJ determined at step three that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. [AR 21 (citing 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926.]

         Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a reduced range of light work, except she can:

Stand and walk up to six hours, cumulatively, and sit up to six hours, cumulatively, in an eight-hour work day; lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally, ten pounds frequently, occasionally climb, balance, bend, stoop, and crawl, but never climb ropes, scaffolds, or ladders; more than frequently perform complex technical work; and can perform a full range of simple, repetitive work at least at level seven reasoning. [AR 23.]

         Applying this RFC at step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. The ALJ, however, found at step five that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, and thus she is not disabled. [AR 30.]

         Plaintiff objects to the ALJ's decision of non-disability on four grounds: (1) that the ALJ erred by rejecting the examining opinion given by Dr. Bernabe; (2) that the ALJ failed to incorporate all of her rheumatologic manipulative limitations found by Dr. Bernabe in the RFC finding; (3) that the ALJ erred in evaluating her subjective symptom testimony; and (4) that he erred in evaluating the testimony of her lay witness. [Pl.'s Br. at Dkt. 21.] Defendant responds that the ALJ's decision should be affirmed. [Dkt. 25.]


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citation and quotations omitted); see also Hoopai, 499 F.3d at 1074. The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). 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).


         A. The ALJ Did Not Err in Rejecting Dr. Bernabe's Examining Opinion

         First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting a portion of Dr. Bernabe's examining opinion limiting Plaintiff's manipulative activities such as handling, fingering, feeling and reaching to an occasional basis. In response, Defendant argues that ALJ properly weighed conflicting medical opinion evidence and formulated an RFC best supported by the weight of the record as a whole. Defendant further argues that the ALJ provided specific and legitimate reasons explaining why he discounted Dr. Bernabe's opinion-reasons that are supported by substantial evidence in the record.

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