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Williams v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

December 18, 2019

GALE MARIE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ALKA SAGAR, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         PROCEEDINGS

         On May 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), and supplemental security income (“SSI”), respectively, under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. (Dkt. No. 1). On October 10, 2018, Defendant filed an Answer and the Administrative Record (“AR”). (Dkt. Nos. 16-17). The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 11-12). On December 29, 2018, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) setting forth their respective positions regarding Plaintiff's claim. (Dkt. No. 18). The matter was transferred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge on November 14, 2019. (Dkt. No. 23). The Court has taken this matter under submission without oral argument. See C.D. Cal. C. R. 7-15.

         BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

         On January 18, 2011, Plaintiff, formerly employed as a data entry clerk (see AR 53, 207, 800, 846), filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging a disability onset date of October 24, 2009. (AR 176-85, 186-91). Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on March 11, 2011 (AR 113-17), and on reconsideration on September 1, 2011. (AR 119-24).

         On November 2, 2012, following a hearing, Administrative Law Judge Duane B. Young issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (AR 22-58, 95-112). The Appeals Council then denied a request for review, and Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (AR 9-14, 853-64; see Williams v. Colvin, No. EDCV 14-2146 PLA). On July 23, 2015, the Court remanded the matter for further proceedings. (AR 865-885; see Williams, No. EDCV 14-2146 PLA, Dkt. Nos. 15-16).

         On remand, ALJ Dana McDonald (“ALJ”) held a hearing on July 26, 2016, and received testimony from Vocational Expert (“VE”) Troy Scott, Medical Expert Eric Schmitter, and Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel. (See AR 810-52). On September 22, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (AR 786-809).

         The ALJ applied the requisite five-step process to evaluate Plaintiff's case. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2015, and had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity from October 24, 2009, her alleged disability onset date, to July 31, 2012, and also from December 1, 2014 to the date of the decision. (AR 792). However, between those two periods, from August 1, 2012 to November 30, 2014, Plaintiff ran a small childcare business out of her home, full time, which the ALJ found to be substantial gainful activity. (Id.).

         At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: left knee degenerative joint disease and internal derangement; left knee enthesopathy; history of left knee arthroscopy surgery; angina with evidence of cardiac ischemia; lumbar spine facet arthropathy; lumbar spine degenerative disc disease with fusion in November 2013; cervical spine degenerative disc disease; and obesity. (AR 792-93). The ALJ found that Plaintiff's other alleged impairments, including mental impairments, were non-severe. (AR 793-94).

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal a listing found in 20 C.F.R Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR 794). Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)[2] to perform “the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a).[3] (AR 795).

         At step four, the ALJ determined, based on the VE's testimony, that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a data entry clerk as actually and generally performed. (AR 800-01). The ALJ thus concluded that Plaintiff has not been disabled since her alleged disability onset date of October 24, 2009. (AR 801).

         On April 4, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision. (See AR 776-72). 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).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court reviews the Administration'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 ...


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