United States District Court, C.D. California, Western Division
STEVEN J. P., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
L. ABRAMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
J. P. (“plaintiff”) filed this
action on May 18, 2019, seeking review of the
Commissioner's denial of his applications for a period of
disability and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) payments. The parties filed Consents to
proceed before a Magistrate Judge on June 11, 2019, and June
25, 2019. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties
filed a Joint Submission (alternatively “JS”) on
January 7, 2020, that addresses their positions concerning
the disputed issue in the case. The Court has taken the Joint
Submission under submission without oral argument.
was born in 1966. [Administrative Record (“AR”)
at 27, 217, 223.] He has past relevant work experience as a
janitor. [Id. at 26, 66.]
September 1, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for a
period of disability and DIB and an application for SSI
payments alleging in both that he has been unable to work
since December 23, 2013. [Id. at 15; see also
id. at 217-22, 223-26.] After his applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff timely
filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). [Id. at 161-63.] A
hearing was held on December 27, 2017, at which time
plaintiff appeared represented by an attorney, and testified
on his own behalf. [Id. at 36-72.] A vocational
expert (“VE”) also testified. [Id. at
65-71.] On May 23, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision concluding
that plaintiff was not under a disability from December 23,
2013, the alleged onset date, through May 23, 2018, the date
of the decision. [Id. at 15-28.] Plaintiff requested
review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council.
[Id. at 215.] When the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review on March 25, 2019
[id. at 1-5], the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner. See Sam v.
Astrue, 550 F.3d 808, 810 (9th Cir. 2008) (per
curiam) (citations omitted). This action followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to
review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The
decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application
of improper legal standards. Berry v. Astrue, 622
F.3d 1228, 1231 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
evidence . . . is ‘more than a mere scintilla[, ]'
. . . [which] means -- and means only -- ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Biestek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154, 203 L.Ed.2d 504 (2019)
(citations omitted); Revels v. Berryhill, 874 F.3d
648, 654 (9th Cir. 2017). “Where evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
ALJ's decision should be upheld.” Revels,
874 F.3d at 654 (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). However, the Court “must consider the entire
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's
conclusion, and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific
quantum of supporting evidence.” Id. (quoting
Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir.
2014) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The Court will
“review 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.” Id.
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also
SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 87, 63 S.Ct. 454, 87
L.Ed. 626 (1943) (“The grounds upon which an
administrative order must be judged are those upon which the
record discloses that its action was based.”).
THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY
are “disabled” for purposes of receiving Social
Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental
impairment that is expected to result in death or which has
lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at
least twelve months. Garcia v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 768 F.3d 925, 930 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)).
THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS
Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential
evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920;
Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th
Cir. 2006) (citing Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,
1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999)). In the first step, the Commissioner
must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not
disabled and the claim is denied. Lounsburry, 468
F.3d at 1114. If the claimant is not currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of impairments
significantly limiting his ability to do basic work
activities; if not, a finding of nondisability is made and
the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a
“severe” impairment or combination of
impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of
Impairments (“Listing”) set forth at 20 C.F.R.
§ 404, subpart P, appendix 1; if so, disability is
conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id.
If the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the
Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to
determine whether the claimant has sufficient “residual
functional capacity” to perform his past work; if so,
the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied.
Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he
is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin v.
Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). If the
claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of
disability is established. Id. The Commissioner then
bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not
disabled because there is other work existing in
“significant numbers” in the national or regional
economy the claimant can do, either (1) by the testimony of a
VE, or (2) by reference to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
at 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 2.
Lounsburry, 468 F.3d at 1114. The determination of
this issue comprises the fifth and final step in the
sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 721, 828 n.5 (9th
Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.
THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS
one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since December 23, 2013, the
alleged onset date. [AR at 17.] At step two, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff has the severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spines; arachnoid
cyst; epilepsy; seizure disorder; right knee arthralgia; and
depressive disorder. [Id.] At step three, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or a
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any
of the impairments in the Listing. [Id. at 18.] The
ALJ further found that plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b),  as follows:
[He] can lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds
frequently. [He] can sit for six hours, stand for six hours,
and walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday. [He] can
push/pull as much as he can lift/carry. [He] can frequently
use his right hand for fingering. [He] can frequently climb
ramps and stairs and never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. [He] can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl. [He] must avoid exposure to unprotected heights and
moving mechanical parts. [He] can occasionally be exposed to
work in extreme heat. [He] is limited to performing simple,
routine tasks and simple work-related decisions. [He] can
frequently respond appropriately to supervisors and coworkers
and occasionally respond appropriately to the public. [He] is
limited to simple work-related decisions.
[Id. at 20.] At step four, based on plaintiff's
RFC and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work as a
janitor. [Id. at 26, 66-67.] At step five, based on
plaintiff's RFC, vocational factors, and the VE's
testimony, the ALJ found that there are jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff
can perform, including work as a “housekeeping
cleaner” (Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”) No. 323.687-010), as a “product
trimmer” (DOT No. 732.684-046), and as a “machine
tender” (DOT No. 363.685-010). [AR at 28, 68-69.]
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not
disabled at any time from the alleged onset date of December
23, 2013, through May 23, 2018, the date of the decision.
[Id. at 28.]
THE ALJ'S DECISION
contends that the ALJ erred when he assessed plaintiff's
residual functional capacity for the mental requirements of
work. [JS at 5.] As set forth below, the Court agrees ...