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Earl v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

January 9, 2020

DONALD R. EARL, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,[1] Defendant.



         For the reasons discussed below, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this matter is remanded for further administrative action consistent with this Opinion.


         On January 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income. (Docket Entry No. 1). The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry Nos. 11-12, 17, 28). On May 21, 2018, Defendant filed an Answer along with the Administrative Record (“AR”). (Docket Entry Nos. 14-15). On December 13, 2018, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”) setting forth their respective positions regarding Plaintiff's claim. (Docket Entry No. 23). The matter was transferred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge on November 14, 2019. (Docket Entry No. 27).

         The Court has taken this matter under submission without oral argument. See C.D. Cal. L.R. 7-15.


         On February 6, 2014, Plaintiff, formerly employed as a construction worker (see AR 118, 397), filed an application for Supplemental Security Income, alleging a disability since January 1, 2013. (See AR 93-99).[2] Plaintiff's application was denied initially on July 25, 2014 and on reconsideration on February 19, 2015. (See AR 31-34, 36-40).

         On February 16, 2017, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Troy Silva, heard testimony from Plaintiff (represented by counsel) and vocational expert (“VE”) Kristan Cicero. (See AR 385-403). On April 18, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application. (See AR 15-23). Applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 19, 2014. (AR 17). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments --“degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, deep vein thrombosis of the left lower extremity, lumbar sprain, seizure disorder, and obstructive sleep apnea.” (AR 17-18).[3] At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (AR 18).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[4] and concluded that Plaintiff could perform light work[5] with the following limitations:

[Plaintiff] can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; within those weight limitations, occasionally push and pull with the left upper extremity, and frequently push and pull with the right upper extremity; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; occasional overhead reaching with the dominant left upper extremity and frequent overhead reaching with the right upper extremity; frequent fine and gross manipulation bilaterally; avoid moderate exposure to extreme cold and vibration; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and respiratory irritants such as dusts and fumes; avoid hazards and dangerous moving machinery; and cannot do work around open bodies of water and must observe seizure precautions.

(AR 26-29).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 21). At step five, the ALJ determined, based on Plaintiff's age, education, experience, RFC, and the VE's testimony, that there are jobs that exist in significant No. in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform (AR 22), and therefore found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 23).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 21, 2017. (See AR 3-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383©.


         This Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if it is free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. See Brewes v. Comm'r, 682 F.3d 1157, 1161 (9th Cir. 2012). “Substantial evidence” is “more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance[.]” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014)(citation omitted). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, “a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion[.]” Id. at 1009-10 (citations and quotation marks omitted). As a result, “[w]here the evidence can support either affirming or reversing [the ALJ's] decision, [a court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the [ALJ].” Id. at 1010 (citation omitted).[6]


         PLAINTIFF alleges that the ALJ erred in failing to provide proper reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's testimony. (See Joint Stip. at 4-13).


         After consideration of the record as a whole, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claim of error warrants a remand for further consideration.

         A. The ALJ Failed to Provide Clear and Convincing Reasons for Rejecting Plaintiff's Subjective Symptom Testimony

         Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ did not provide clear and convincing reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's testimony about his symptoms and limitations. (See Joint Stip. at 4-13). Defendant asserts that the ALJ provided specific and permissible ...

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