United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF
THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
E. MCDERMOTT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
February 19, 2019, Tomas Diarte Otanez
(“Plaintiff” or “Claimant”) filed a
complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying
Plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability
Insurance benefits. (Dkt. 1.) The Commissioner filed an
Answer on June 5, 2019. (Dkt. 14.) On September 5, 2019, the
parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“JS”). (Dkt.
16.) The matter is now ready for decision.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed
bef ore this Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. 13.) After reviewing the
pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record
(“AR”), the Court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision must be affirmed and this case
dismissed with prejudice.
is a 50 year-old male who applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance benefits on July 18, 2014, alleging
disability beginning October 5, 2013. (AR 17.) The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since October 5, 2013, the alleged onset
date. (AR 19.)
claim was denied initially on October 30, 2014, and on
reconsideration on July 8, 2015. (AR 17.) Plaintiff filed a
timely request for hearing, which was held before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Andrew Verne on
August 22, 2017, in Moreno Valley, California. (AR 17.)
Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing and was
represented by counsel. (AR 17.) Medical expert
(“ME”) Minh Vu-Dihn (“Vu”), M.D., and
vocational expert (“VE”) Erin M. Welsh also
appeared and testified at the hearing. (AR 17.)
issued an unfavorable decision on January 24, 2018. (AR
17-33.) The Appeals Council denied review on December 21,
2018. (AR 1-3.)
reflected in the Joint Stipulation, Plaintiff raises the
following disputed issues as grounds for reversal and remand:
1. Whether the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's
impairments did not meet or equal Listing 1.04A is supported
by substantial evidence.
2. Whether the ALJ's residual functional capacity
assessment is supported by substantial evidence.
3. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's
decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are
supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error.
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir.
1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841,
846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must
be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper
evidence means “‘more than a mere scintilla,'
but less than a preponderance.” Saelee v.
Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse
as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where
evidence is susceptible to more than one rational
interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld.
Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169
F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). “However, a reviewing
court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not
affirm simply by isolating a ‘specific quantum of
supporting evidence.'” Robbins, 466 F.3d
at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d
625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).
Social Security Act defines disability as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
. . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has
established a five-step sequential process to determine
whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
first step is to determine whether the claimant is presently
engaging in substantial gainful activity. Parra v.
Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If the
claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity,
disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Second, the ALJ must
determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746.
An impairment is not severe if it does not significantly
limit the claimant's ability to work. Smolen, 80
F.3d at 1290. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the
impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed,
in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix I of the
regulations. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. If the impairment meets
or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is
presumptively disabled. Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141. Fourth, the
ALJ must determine whether the impairment prevents the
claimant from doing past relevant work. Pinto v.
Massanari, 249 F.3d 840, 844-45 (9th Cir. 2001). Before
making the step four determination, the ALJ first must
determine the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The RFC is
“the most [one] can still do despite [his or her]
limitations” and represents an assessment “based
on all the relevant evidence.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). The RFC must consider all of
the claimant's impairments, including those that are not
severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(e), 416.945(a)(2);
Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p.
claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work or has
no past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth step and
must determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant
from performing any other substantial gainful activity.
Moore v. Apfel, 216 F.3d 864, 869 (9th Cir. 2000).
The claimant bears the burden of proving steps one through
four, consistent with the general rule that at all times the
burden is on the claimant to establish his or her entitlement
to benefits. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. Once this prima
facie case is established by the claimant, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to show that the claimant may perform
other gainful activity. Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468
F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006). To support a finding that a
claimant is not disabled at step five, the Commissioner must
provide evidence demonstrating that other work exists in
significant No. in the national economy that the claimant can
do, given his or her RFC, age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(g). If the Commissioner
cannot meet this burden, then the claimant is disabled and
entitled to benefits. Id.
case, the ALJ determined at step one of the sequential
process that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 5, 2013, the alleged onset date. (AR
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following
medically determinable severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine and lumbar sprain/strain. (AR
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments. (AR 22-23.)
then found that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work
as defined in 20 CFR § ...