United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
(“plaintiff”) filed this action on March 26,
2019, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his
application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) payments. The parties filed Consents to
proceed before a Magistrate Judge on April 16, 2019, and
April 17, 2019. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the
parties filed a Joint Submission (alternatively
“JS”) on December 11, 2019, that addresses their
positions concerning the disputed issue in the case. The
Court has taken the Joint Submission under submission without
was born in 1971. [Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 26, 332.] He has no past relevant work experience.
[Id. at 26.]
December 31, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for SSI
payments, alleging that he has been unable to work since
March 1, 2004. [Id. at 15; see also id. at
332-53.] After his application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration, plaintiff timely filed a request for a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). [Id. at 168-70.] A hearing was
held on November 5, 2014, at which time plaintiff appeared
represented by an attorney, and testified on his own behalf.
[Id. at 42-68.] A vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. [Id. at 65-68.]
On November 21, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision concluding
that plaintiff was not under a disability since December 31,
2012, the date the application was filed. [Id. at
131-41.] Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision
by the Appeals Council, which was granted on April 11, 2016.
[Id. at 147-48.] The Appeals Council ordered the ALJ
on remand to obtain additional evidence concerning
plaintiff's 2014 complex elbow fracture and resulting
surgery in March and June 2014. [Id. at 147.] On
March 5, 2018, a remand hearing was held before the same ALJ,
at which time plaintiff again appeared represented by an
attorney and testified on his own behalf. [Id. at
69-97.] A medical expert (“ME”) and a different
VE also testified. [Id. at 74-80, 86-97.] On March
23, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision again concluding that
plaintiff was not under a disability since December 31, 2012,
the date the application was filed. [Id. at 15-27.]
On February 7, 2019, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review. [Id. at 1-5.] At
that time, the ALJ's decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.984. This action
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to
review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The
decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application
of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622
F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
evidence . . . is ‘more than a mere scintilla[, ]'
. . . [which] means -- and means only -- ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Biestek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154, 203 L.Ed.2d 504 (2019)
(citations omitted); Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d
648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). “Where evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Revels,
874 F.3d at 654 (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). However, the Court “must consider the entire
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's
conclusion, and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.” Id. (quoting
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Court will
“review only the reasons provided by the ALJ in the
disability determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a
ground upon which he did not rely.” Id.
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also
SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 87, 63 S.Ct. 454, 87
L.Ed. 626 (1943) (“The grounds upon which an
administrative order must be judged are those upon which the
record discloses that its action was based.”).
EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or which has
lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months. Garcia v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 768 F.3d 925, 930 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)).
THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential
evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th
Cir. 2006) (citing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,
1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)). In the first step, the Commissioner
must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not
disabled and the claim is denied. Lounsburry, 468
F.3d at 1114. If the claimant is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limiting his ability to do basic work
activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and
the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of
impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R.
§ 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is
conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id.
If the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the
Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the claimant has sufficient “residual
functional capacity” to perform his past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). If the
claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of
disability is established. Id. The Commissioner then
bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not
disabled because there is other work existing in
“significant numbers” in the national or regional
economy the claimant can do, either (1) by the testimony of a
VE, or (2) by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 2.
Lounsburry, 468 F.3d at 1114. The determination of
this issue comprises the fifth and final step in the
sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 721, 828 n.5 (9th
Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2012, the
application date. [AR at 18.] At step two, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has the severe impairments of lumbar spine
degenerative disc disease; history of asthma; right humerus
fracture (status post-open reduction and internal fixation);
depression; and anti-social personality disorder.
[Id.] At step three, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals any of the
impairments in the Listing. [Id. at 21.] The ALJ
further found that plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of light work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b),  as follows:
[F]requent postural movements, occasional reaching/handling
with his dominant right upper extremity, unrestricted
fingering/feeling, performance of simple, repetitive tasks in
non-public work setting, occasional interactions with
co-workers and supervisors, and avoiding concentrate exposure
to respiratory irritants (e.g. dust, fumes, chemicals, etc.).
[Id. at 22.] At step four, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff has no past relevant work. [Id. at 26.] At
step five, based on plaintiff's RFC, vocational factors,
and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that there are jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy that
plaintiff can perform, including work as an “office
helper” (Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”) No. 239.567-010), as a “mail
clerk” (DOT No. 209.687-026), and as a “sales
attendant” (DOT No. 299.677-010). [AR at 26-27.]