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Williamson v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. California

January 16, 2020

ANDREW SAUL, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Earnie Williamson seeks social security benefits for a variety of physical and mental impairments including PTSD, gout, arthritis, poor circulation, chronic back and knee pain, and hearing loss. (Administrative Record (“AR”) 62, 242, 1022.) Pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 405(g), Plaintiff filed this lawsuit for judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his benefits claim. Now before the Court are Plaintiff's and Defendant's Motions for Summary Judgment.[1] (Dkt. Nos. 21 & 22.[2]) Because the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to deny benefits is supported by substantial evidence and otherwise free of legal error, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion and GRANTS Defendant's cross-motion.


         Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplement security income, under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) on October 21, 2014 alleging a disability onset date of June 2, 2014. (AR 16, 177.) His applications were denied both initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 16.) Plaintiff then submitted a written request for a hearing before an ALJ and his hearing was held before Judge Arthur Zeidman on February 7, 2017. (AR 35.) On August 16, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 16-29.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff's only severe impairment was fracture of the left knee and that he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. (AR 18-22.) The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of medium work with certain limitations. (AR 22.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled because he was capable of performing his past relevant work as a janitor, as well as other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR 28.)

         Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision which was denied on June 8, 2018 making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. (AR 1-3.) After the Appeals Council denied review, Plaintiff sought review in this Court. (Dkt. 1.) In accordance with Civil Local Rule 16-5, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 21, 22), which are now ready for decision without oral argument.


         1. Did the ALJ err in finding that Plaintiff only had one severe impairment?

         2. Did the ALJ err in giving the greatest weight to the medical opinions of the consultative examiner and non-examining state agency medical consultants, and giving little weight to Plaintiff's treating source opinion?

         3. Did the ALJ err in formulating Plaintiff's RFC and finding that he did not meet Social Security Grid Rule 202.04?


         A claimant is considered “disabled” under the Social Security Act if he meets two requirements. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). First, the claimant must demonstrate “an 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C § 423(d)(1)(A). Second, the impairment or impairments must be severe enough that he is unable to do his previous work and cannot, based on his age, education, and work experience “engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). To determine whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is required to employ a five-step sequential analysis, examining: (1) whether the claimant is engaging in “substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the claimant has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment” or combination of impairments that has lasted for more than 12 months; (3) whether the impairment “meets or equals” one of the listings in the regulations; (4) whether, given the claimant's “residual function capacity, ” (“RFC”) the claimant can still do her “past relevant work”' and (5) whether the claimant “can make an adjustment to other work.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012); see also 20 C.R.F. §§404.1520(a), 416.920(a).

         An ALJ's “decision to deny benefits will only be disturbed if it is not supported by substantial evidence or it is based on legal error.” Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion that must be upheld.” Id. In other words, if the record “can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, the reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, “a decision supported by substantial evidence will still be set aside if the ALJ does not apply proper legal standards.” Id.


         A. The ALJ's Determination regarding ...

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