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Shadle v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 18, 2019

EVAN SHADLE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,[1] Defendant.



         For the reasons discussed below, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this matter is remanded for further administrative action consistent with this Opinion.


         On April 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the denial of his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. (Docket Entry No. 1). On September 17, 2018, Defendant filed an Answer along with the Administrative Record (“AR”). (Docket Entry Nos. 20-21). On January 29, 2019, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) setting forth their respective positions regarding Plaintiff's claims. (Docket Entry No. 26). On November 13, 2019, the matter was transferred to the undersigned magistrate judge. (Docket Entry No. 28). The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry Nos. 29-30).

         The Court has taken this matter under submission without oral argument. See C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15.


         On June 20, 2014, Plaintiff, formerly employed as a security guard, dealer service technician and machine operator (see AR 225-29), filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging an inability to work because of a disabling condition since August 1, 2012. (See AR 23, 195-98). On June 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income, alleging a disability since August 1, 2012. (See AR 23, 199-204).

         On October 18, 2016, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Donald Colpitts, heard testimony from Plaintiff (represented by counsel) and vocational expert Robin Generaux. (See AR 38-55). On January 27, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (See AR 23-31). Applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2012. (AR 25). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of cardiac dysrhythmia and shortness of breath. (AR 25). At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 25-26). The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2] to perform light work.[3] (AR 26-29).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as a security guard and alternatively determined, based on Plaintiff's age, education, experience, and RFC, that there are jobs that exist in significant No. in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (AR 29-30). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 30-31).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 19, 2018. (See AR 3-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).


         This Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if it is free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. See Brewes v. Comm'r, 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial evidence” is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, “a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001)(internal quotation omitted). As a result, “[i]f the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006).[4]


         Plaintiff alleges that (1) the ALJ erred in failing to provide clear and convincing reasons for finding Plaintiff's testimony not credible, and (2) the medical evidence submitted to the Appeals Council undermines the ALJ's decision. (See Joint Stip. at 4-10, 15-20).


         After consideration of the record as a whole, the Court finds that Plaintiff's first claim of error warrants a remand for further consideration. Since the Court is remanding the matter based on Plaintiff's first claim of error, the Court will not address Plaintiff's second claim of error.

         A. The ALJ Did Not Properly Assess Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ did not provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's testimony about his symptoms and limitations. (See Joint Stip. at 4-10, 15). Defendant asserts that the ALJ provided valid reasons for finding Plaintiff not fully credible. (See Joint Stip. at 10-15).

         1. Legal Standard

         Where, as here, the ALJ finds that a claimant suffers from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce his or her alleged symptoms, the ALJ must evaluate “the intensity and persistence of those symptoms to determine the extent to which the symptoms limit an individual's ability to perform work-related activities for an adult . . . .” Soc. Sec. Ruling (“SSR”) 16-3p, 2017 WL 5180304, *3.[5]

         A claimant initially must produce objective medical evidence establishing a medical impairment reasonably likely to be the cause of the subjective symptoms. Smolen v. Chater,80 F.3d 1273, 1281 (9th Cir. 1996); Bunnell v. Sullivan,947 F.2d 341, 345 (9th Cir. 1991). Once a claimant produces objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged, and there is no evidence of malingering, the ALJ may reject the claimant's testimony regarding the severity of his or her pain and symptoms only by articulating specific, clear and convincing reasons for doing so. Brown-Hunter v. Colvin,798 F.3d 749, 755 (9th Cir. 2015)(citing Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1036 (9th Cir. 2007)); see also Smolen, supra; Robbins v. Social Sec. Admin,466 F.3d 880, 883 (9th Cir. 2006); Reddick v. Chater,157 F.3d ...

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