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Cecilia M. v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. California

December 19, 2019

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



         This Report and Recommendation is submitted to United States District Judge William Q. Hayes pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 72.1(c) of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

         Plaintiff Cecilia M. (“Plaintiff”) filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final administrative decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”). (ECF No. 1 at 1-2).[2] The final administrative decision of the Commissioner denied Plaintiffs application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Title XVI”). (AR 37).[3]

         For the reasons set forth herein, the Court RECOMMENDS Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11-1) be DENIED, Defendant's Motion to Remand be DENIED, and the Commissioner's decision finding Plaintiff not disabled and denying Supplemental Security Income be AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on October 27, 1964. (AR 219). At the time the instant application was filed on November 29, 2012, Plaintiff was 48 years-old, which categorized her as a younger person. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563, 416.963. Plaintiff subsequently changed age categories to closely approaching advanced age. 20 C.F.R. 416.963.

         A. Procedural History

         On November 29, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI. (AR 37). The application alleged a disability beginning September 5, 2003, but Plaintiff amended her alleged disability onset date to October 27, 2014 at the administrative hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ"). (AR 37, 56, 219). After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing before an ALJ. (AR 37). An administrative hearing was held on March 17, 2016. (Id.). Plaintiff appeared and was represented by attorney John B. Martin. (AR 54). Testimony was taken from Plaintiff and from impartial vocational expert (“VE”) Kathleen Macy-Powers (AR 54, 306). On May 3, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled from October 27, 2014 through the date of the decision and therefore denied Plaintiffs application for supplemental security income. (AR 37-48).

         On June 13, 2016, Plaintiff sought review with the Appeals Council. (AR 4). On August 21, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review and declared the ALJ's decision to be the Commissioner's final decision in Plaintiffs case. (AR 1). This timely civil action followed.

         On May 16, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing the ALJ improperly considered the accommodations an employer must make to allow for a dog to be present in the workplace. (ECF No. 11-1). On August 15, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to remand, contending that the ALJ improperly included an ADA accommodation in assessing Plaintiffs Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) and that the accommodation is not medically necessary. (ECF No. 15-1). In opposition, Plaintiff avers that the RFC is correct and that remand is only warranted if it is limited to re-evaluating step five of the sequential evaluation process. (See ECF No. 18). In reply, Defendant maintains that remand without limitation is required. (ECF No. 20).


         A. Legal Standard

         Sections 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of the Social Security Act allow unsuccessful applicants to seek judicial review of a final agency decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The scope of judicial review is limited in that a denial of benefits will not be disturbed if it is supported by substantial evidence and contains no legal error. Id.; see also Batson v. Comm'r of the SSA, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).

         Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance. . . .” Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “[I]t is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quoting Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)). The court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions. Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). If the evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the court must uphold the ALJ's decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. When the evidence is inconclusive, “‘questions of credibility and resolution of conflicts in the testimony are functions solely of the Secretary.'” Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982) (quoting Waters v. Gardner, 452 F.2d 855, 858 n.7 (9th Cir. 1971)).

         Even if a reviewing court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion, the court must set aside the decision if the ALJ failed to apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and reaching his or her decision. Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. Section 405(g) permits a court to enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the Commissioner's decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The reviewing court may also remand the matter to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings. Id.

         B. Summary of the ...

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