United States District Court, E.D. California
ELISA M. SWEENEY, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, and for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C.
Social Security matter was referred to the undersigned
pursuant to Local Rule 302(c)(15). For the reasons that
follow, the undersigned recommends plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment be GRANTED and the Commissioner's
cross-motion for summary judgment be DENIED.
applied for disability insurance benefits on September 1,
2015 and for supplemental security income on September 18,
2015. Administrative Record (“AR”)
The disability onset date for both applications was alleged
to be June 1, 2012. Id. The applications were
disapproved initially and on reconsideration. Id. On
May 10, 2017, ALJ Curtis Renoe presided over the video
hearing on plaintiff's challenge to the disapprovals. AR
38 -93 (transcript). Plaintiff was present and testified at
the hearing. AR 38. Plaintiff was represented at the hearing
by Philip Armour. Id. Vocational Expert Michael
Graham and witness Elora Pea were also present and testified.
September 28, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
finding plaintiff “not disabled” under Sections
216(i) and 223(d) of Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i), 423(d), and Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of
Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). AR
17-28 (decision), 29-33 (exhibit list). On July 18, 2018,
after receiving counsel's Representative Brief and
Request for Review of Hearing Decision Dated October 19, 2017
as additional exhibits, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's
decision as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security. AR 1-5 (decision).
filed this action on September 13, 2018. ECF No. 1;
see 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, based upon
the Administrative Record filed by the Commissioner, have
been briefed. ECF Nos. 13 (plaintiff's summary judgment
motion), 14 (Commissioner's summary judgment motion). No.
reply brief was filed.
was born in 1973, and accordingly was 38 years old on the
alleged disability onset date, making her a “younger
person” under the regulations. AR 26; see 20
C.F.R §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c) (same). Plaintiff
earned her GED in 1992 and can communicate in English. AR
Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled
will be upheld “if it is supported by substantial
evidence and if the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards.” Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart,
341 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2003). “‘The
findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .'”
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” but
“may be less than a preponderance.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “It
means 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 quotation marks omitted). “While inferences
from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only
those ‘reasonably drawn from the record' will
suffice.” Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063,
1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).
this court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the
Commissioner, the court nonetheless must review the record as
a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and
the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's]
conclusion.” Desrosiers v. Secretary of HHS,
846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); Jones v. Heckler,
760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (“The court must
consider both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion; it may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving
ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). “Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). 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); Connett v.
Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003) (“It
was error for the district court to affirm the ALJ's
credibility decision based on evidence that the ALJ did not
court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it
is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is
“clear from the record that an ALJ's error was
‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.'” Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Stout v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th
Cir. 2006)); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d
676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income are
available for every eligible individual who is
“disabled.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(E)
(DIB), 1381a (SSI). Plaintiff is “disabled” if
she is “‘unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment . . . .'” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987) (quoting identically worded provisions
of 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A)).
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine whether an applicant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4); Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20,
24-25 (2003) (setting forth the “five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine disability” under Title
II and Title XVI). The following summarizes the sequential
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not,
proceed to step two.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b) and
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe”
impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, the
claimant is not disabled.
Id., §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c) and
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination
of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is