United States District Court, E.D. California
ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her
application for continuing disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, and for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383f. For the reasons that follow, the court
will GRANT plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, DENY
the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and
remand this case for an immediate award of benefits.
decision dated December 4, 2009, plaintiff was found disabled
and eligible for DIB beginning October 7, 2003. AR 14, 320.
In that decision, plaintiff was found capable of performing
only unskilled, sedentary level work with frequent and
unplanned breaks. AR 320. In a continuing disability review
(“CDR”), the agency re-evaluated and continued
her disability on November 7, 2011. AR 14, 320. In a
subsequent CDR decision issued on June 4, 2015, the agency
determined that plaintiff's disability had ended on June
2, 2015, finding plaintiff able to perform light work. AR 14,
310-13. A state agency disability hearing officer denied
plaintiff's request for reconsideration, and
administrative law judge (ALJ) Sara A. Gillis affirmed after
a hearing. AR 14-22, 270-99 (transcript), 317-23. Plaintiff
appeared and testified at the hearing, and was represented by
counsel. AR 270. Vocational Expert (VE) Ronald Hatakeyama
also testified. Id. The ALJ's decision became
final when the Appeals Council denied review. AR 1-4.
Plaintiff then commenced this action for judicial review. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), ECF No. 1. The parties consented to the
jurisdiction of the magistrate judge. ECF Nos. 6, 8. The
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, based upon
the Administrative Record filed by the Commissioner, have
been fully briefed. ECF Nos. 13 (plaintiff's summary
judgment motion), 14 (Commissioner's summary judgment
motion), 16 (plaintiff's reply).
was born in 1980, and accordingly was 35 years old as of the
disability review date, making her a “younger
individual age 18-49” under the regulations. AR 21;
see 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c)
(same). Plaintiff has at least a high school education, and
can communicate in English. AR 21.
Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled
will be upheld “if it is supported by substantial
evidence and if the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards.” Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart,
341 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2003). “‘The
findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . ..'”
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir.
1995) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” but
“may be less than a preponderance.” Molina v.
Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). “It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(internal quotation marks omitted). “While inferences
from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only
those ‘reasonably drawn from the record' will
suffice.” Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063,
1066 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).
this court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the
Commissioner, the court nonetheless must review the record as
a whole, “weighing both the evidence that supports and
the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's]
conclusion.” Desrosiers v. Secretary of HHS,
846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); Jones v. Heckler,
760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (“The court must
consider both evidence that supports and evidence that
detracts from the ALJ's conclusion; it may not affirm
simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting
ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving
conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving
ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d
1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001). “Where the evidence is
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of
which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's
conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v.
Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). However,
the court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in
his decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground
upon which he did not rely.” Orn v. Astrue,
495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007); Connett v.
Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003) (“It
was error for the district court to affirm the ALJ's
credibility decision based on evidence that the ALJ did not
court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it
is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is
“clear from the record that an ALJ's error was
‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability
determination.'” Robbins v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Stout v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th
Cir. 2006)); see also Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d
676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income are
available for every eligible individual who is
“disabled.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(a)(1)(E)
(DIB), 1381a (SSI). Plaintiff is “disabled” if
she is “‘unable to engage in substantial gainful
activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment . . ..'” Bowen v. Yuckert, 482
U.S. 137, 140 (1987) (quoting identically worded provisions
of 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A)).
Commissioner uses a five-step sequential evaluation process
to determine whether an applicant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4); Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20,
24-25 (2003) (setting forth the “five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine disability” under Title
II and Title XVI). The following summarizes the sequential
Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not,
proceed to step two.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b) and
Step two: Does the claimant have a “severe”
impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, the
claimant is not disabled.
Id., §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), (c) and
Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination
of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is
disabled. If not, proceed to step four.
Id., §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d) and
Step four: Does the claimant's residual functional
capacity make him capable of performing his past work? If so,
the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.
Id., §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), (e), (f) and
416.920(a)(4)(iv), (e), (f).
Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional
capacity perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not