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Emma S. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 23, 2019

EMMA S.,[1] Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL,[2] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         On October 31, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the Social Security Commissioner's final decision terminating her Supplemental Security Income benefits, which she had been receiving pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This matter is fully briefed and ready for decision. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's final decision is affirmed, and this action is dismissed with prejudice.


         On October 10, 2012, the Commissioner found that Plaintiff was disabled beginning on May 11, 2012 due to an organic mental disorder and epilepsy. (Administrative Record [AR] 18, 92.) The Commissioner found that Plaintiff's mental conditions met the requirements of Listing 12.02 (Organic Mental Disorders). (AR 87-88.)

         On November 22, 2016, the Commissioner determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of November 1, 2016. (AR 18, 105.) On reconsideration, a disability hearing officer upheld the decision. (AR 18, 138-47.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (AR 151.) At a hearing held on December 11, 2017, at which Plaintiff waived her right to counsel, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, Plaintiff's son, and a vocational expert. (AR 33-81.) In a decision issued on February 6, 2018, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's disability had ended as of November 1, 2016. (AR 18-28.)

         The ALJ applied the evaluation for medical improvement, as set out in 20 C.F.R. § 416.994, to make the following findings. (AR 19.) Since November 1, 2016, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (AR 20.) Since November 1, 2016, there had been medical improvement. (AR 22.) The medical improvement was related to the ability to work because Plaintiff no longer met or equaled the requirements of a listed impairment. (Id.) Since November 1, 2016, Plaintiff continued to have severe impairments consisting of “epilepsy/seizure disorder” and an organic mental disorder. (AR 23.) Beginning on November 1, 2016, Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity for medium work with additional non-exertional limitations including a limitation to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. (Id.) Although Plaintiff had no past relevant work (AR 26), her residual functional capacity enabled her to perform other work in the national economy, in the occupations of “marker, laundry, ” “linen room attendant, ” and “stores, laborer” (AR 27). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's disability ended on November 1, 2016 and that she had not become disabled again since that date. (Id.)

         On October 3, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-6.) Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.


         The disputed issue here is “whether the ALJ's conclusion that substantial medical improvement occurred on November 1, 2016 is supported by substantial evidence.” (ECF No. 25, Parties' Joint Stipulation [“Joint Stip.”] at 4.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Treichler v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” but less than a preponderance. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The Court must review the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035. Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's interpretation must be upheld. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).


         A. Legal Standard.

         Once a claimant is found to be disabled, a presumption of continuing disability arises in her favor. See Bellamy v. Secretary of Health & Human Services,755 F.2d 1380, 1381 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Murray v. Heckler,722 F.2d 499, 500 (9th Cir. 1983)). To rebut the presumption, the Commissioner has the ...

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