United States District Court, S.D. California
ORDER RE: CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF
NOS. 13, 14]
HONORABLE LINDA LOPEZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Lilia R. brings this action for judicial review of the Social
(“Commissioner's”) denial of her claim for
disability insurance benefits. ECF No. 1. Before the Court
are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 13
(“Pl.'s Mot.”)], Defendant's Cross-Motion
for Summary Judgment and Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion
[ECF No. 14 (“Def.'s Mot.”) and
Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Motion for Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 15 (“Pl.'s Reply”)].
reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and
DENIES Defendant's Cross-Motion for
December 10, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning
November 21, 2013. Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 163-64. On April 23, 2015, Plaintiff's claims were
denied by initial determination. Id. at 95-100. On
June 1, 2015, Plaintiff requested reconsideration.
Id. at 101. On August 27, 2015, Plaintiff's
application was denied on reconsideration. Id. at
102-106. On September 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed a written
request for a hearing. Id. at 108-109.
3, 2017, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Mark Greenberg. Id. at 33-60. On
November 2, 2017, the ALJ issued a partially favorable
written decision in which he found that: (1) Plaintiff had
been under a disability within the meaning of the Social
Security Act from November 21, 2013 through February 3, 2017;
and (2) Plaintiff's disability ended on February 4, 2017.
Id. at 18-27.
November 2, 2017, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's
decision by the Appeals Council. Id. at 2. In a
letter dated February 14, 2019, the Appeals Council found no
basis for changing the ALJ's ruling. Id. at 2-5.
The ALJ's decision thereafter became the
Commissioner's final decision.
April 15, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant action for
judicial review by the federal district court. ECF No. 1. On
September 24, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary
judgment. ECF No. 13. On October 24, 2019, Defendant filed a
cross-motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 14. On November 6,
2019, Plaintiff filed a reply. ECF No. 15. Defendant did not
file a reply. See Docket.
OF THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
followed the Commissioner's five-step sequential
evaluation process in his written decision. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At step one, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since November 21, 2013, her alleged onset date. AR
two, the ALJ found that from November 21, 2013 through
February 3, 2017, Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine,
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, peripheral
neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and pronator cuff
syndrome. Id. at 21-22.
three, the ALJ found that from November 21, 2013 through
February 3, 2017, Plaintiff had an impairment that medically
equaled one of the impairments listed in the
Commissioner's Listing of Impairments (specifically the
criteria in Listings 1.04(A) and 11.14). Id. at 22.
then determined that Plaintiff did not develop any new
impairments since February 4, 2017, and that Plaintiff
experienced medical improvement beginning February 4, 2017.
Id. at 24. Based on this improvement, the ALJ found
beginning February 4, 2017, Plaintiff no longer had an
impairment or combination of impairments that met, or
medically equaled, the severity of one of the impairments
listed in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments.
Id. at 25.
RFC assessment, the ALJ found that beginning February 4,
2017, Plaintiff had residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with the
following limitations: “lift or carry 10 pounds;
frequent bend, stoop, crouch, crawl, climb, kneel, and
balance; frequent fine or gross manipulation; occasional
overhead reaching; and avoid exposure to cold
four, the ALJ found that beginning February 4, 2017,
Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as
a “bank/order clerk, ” “customer service
representative” and “data entry clerk.”
Id. at 26.
405(g) of the Social Security Act permits unsuccessful
applicants to seek judicial review of the Commissioner's
final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of
judicial review is limited. A denial of benefits will not be
disturbed if it is supported by substantial evidence and
contains no legal error. Id.; see also Trevizo
v. Berryhill, 871 F.3d 664, 674 (9th Cir. 2017) (citing
Benton ex rel. Benton v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030,
1035 (9th Cir. 2003)).
evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but may be less than
a preponderance.” Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d
503, 509 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). It is
“relevant evidence that, considering the entire record,
a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted). “In
determining whether the [ALJ's] findings are supported by
substantial evidence, [the court] must review the
administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence
that supports and the evidence that detracts from the
[ALJ's] conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater,
157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted).
“Where evidence is susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision should be
upheld.” Trevizo, 871 F.3d at 674-75 (quoting
Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007)).
This includes deferring to the ALJ's consistency
determinations and resolutions of evidentiary conflicts.
See Lewis, 236 F.3d at 509. A court reviews
“only the reasons provided by the ALJ in the disability
determination and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon
which he did not rely.” Garrison v. Colvin,
759 F.3d 995, 1010 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted).
405(g) permits a court to enter 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
challenges the ALJ's partially favorable decision on two
grounds. First, Plaintiff contends the ALJ's rejection of
her subjective symptom testimony was legal error. Pl.'s
Mot. at 6-8. Second, Plaintiff contends the ALJ further erred
by failing to discuss or otherwise consider a function report
completed by a third party. Id. at 12-15.
Court addresses each ground below.
Subjective Symptoms Testimony a. Relevant
Ninth Circuit has established a two-part test to determine
“whether a claimant's testimony regarding
subjective pain or symptoms is credible[.]” See
Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035-36 (9th Cir.
2007). “First, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an
underlying impairment ‘which could reasonably be
expected to produce the pain or other symptoms
alleged.'” Id. (quoting Bunnell v.
Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 344 (9th Cir. 1991)). The
claimant “need not show that her impairment could
reasonably be expected to cause the severity of the symptom
she has alleged; she need only show that it could reasonably
have caused some degree of the symptom.” Id.
(quoting Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1282 (9th
if the claimant meets this first test and there is no
evidence of malingering, “the ALJ can reject the
claimant's testimony about the severity of her symptoms
only by offering specific, clear and convincing reasons for
doing so.” Id. (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). General findings are insufficient; the
ALJ “must identify what testimony is not credible and
what evidence undermines the claimant's
complaints.” See Reddick, 157 F.3d at 722
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The
ALJ's findings must be “sufficiently ...