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Luis V. H. v. Saul

United States District Court, C.D. California

January 16, 2020

JOSE LUIS V. H.,[1] Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL,[2] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Jose Luis V. H. (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint on December 18, 2018, seeking review of the denial of his application for Disability Insurance benefits (“DI”) and Supplemental Security Insurance (“SSI”). (Dkt. No. 1.) On January 31, 2019, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. (Dkt. Nos. 11-13.) On September 23, 2019, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation (“Joint Stip.”). (Dkt. No. 21.) Plaintiff seeks an order reversing and remanding for further administrative proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 17.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. (Id. at 18.) The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.


         On October 11, 2013, Plaintiff, who was born on October 31, 1959, filed an application for DI; and on April 14, 2014, he filed an application for SSI.[3] (See Administrative Record (“AR”) 293-302; Joint Stip. at 2.) Plaintiff alleged disability commencing October 19, 2005 due to carpal tunnel, arthritis, hernia, diabetes, HBP, low platelet count, vertigo, lumbosacral strain, cirrhosis, varicose veins, hearing loss, and back pain. (AR 296, 319.) He previously worked as a material handler (DOT[4] 929.687-030), hand packager (DOT 920.587-018), industrial truck operator (DOT 921.683-050), and store laborer (DOT 922.687-058). (AR 85-87.) After the Commissioner initially denied Plaintiff's applications (AR 161-71), Plaintiff requested a hearing (AR 173-74). Administrative Law Judge Michael B. Richardson (the “ALJ”) held a hearing on July 20, 2017. (AR 43.) Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (AR 47-91.) On August 11, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (AR 14-33.) On June 27, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 6-12.)


         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2010. (AR 22.) He found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the alleged October 19, 2005 onset date through the date last insured. (Id.) He determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: carpal tunnel syndrome, status post right hand carpal tunnel release; hypertension; diabetes mellitus; hearing loss without implant, left ear; and low back pain syndrome with sciatica. (Id.) After specifically considering listings 1.04, 2.10, 11.14, and the listings found under sections 1.00, 2.00, 4.00, 9.00, and 11.00, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926). (AR 18.) The ALJ determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work with the following limitations:

[H]e can frequently push and pull with the bilateral lower extremities; he can frequently perform all postural activities; he can frequently handle, finger and feel bilaterally; he must avoid noise over moderate level and can do no work requiring good hearing; he must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and heat, wetness, humidity, noise and vibration; and can have no exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery.

(AR 26.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a store laborer. (AR 31.) Accordingly, he determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from the onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. (AR 32.)


         This Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). “Substantial evidence is ‘more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 522-23 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). “Even when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, [the Court] must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012).

         Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for the Commissioner's, 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.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1988). “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in her decision “and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely.” Orn, 495 F.3d at 630. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists if the error is “‘inconsequential to the ultimate nondisability determination,' or if despite the legal error, ‘the agency's path may reasonably be discerned.'” Brown-Hunter v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted).


         Plaintiff raises three issues: (1) whether the ALJ properly rejected several of Plaintiff's impairments as being nonsevere; (2) whether the ALJ properly considered the opinions of two of Plaintiff's treating physicians; and (3) whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective statements. (Joint Stip. at 2.) For the reasons discussed below, the ALJ erred in failing to consider the opinion of one of Plaintiff's treating ...

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