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Thacker v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 7, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Jason Lee Thacker ("Plaintiff") challenges the Commissioner's denial of his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


         On August 28, 2012, Plaintiff protectively applied for DIB alleging disability beginning May 27, 2012. (Administrative Record ("AR") 130-31). His application was denied initially on June 27, 2013, and upon reconsideration on November 8, 2013. (AR 56-78.) On November 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing, and a hearing was held on July 29, 2014. (AR 34-55, 93-94.) Represented by counsel, Plaintiff appeared and testified, along with an impartial vocational expert. (AR 38-54.) On September 24, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, pursuant to the Social Security Act, [1] since May 27, 2012. (AR 21.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-6.) Plaintiff filed this action on May 14, 2015. (Dkt. No. 1.)

         The ALJ followed a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 27, 2012, the alleged onset date ("AOD"). (AR 14.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: chronic pulmonary insufficiency; ischemic heart disease; degenerative disease of the cervical spine; degenerative disease of the lumbar spine; and obesity. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." (AR 15.)

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to:

[P]erform a range of light work . . . . Specifically, the claimant can sit six hours in an eight-hour day; stand and walk six hours in an eight-hour day; lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; and occasionally climb stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant is precluded from the following: climbing ladders, scaffolds, or ropes; working or walking on uneven terrain; working at unprotected heights, or near dangerous or fast moving machinery; working in extreme temperatures, both hot and cold; and exposure to dust, fumes, and gases.

(AR 15.)

         At step four, based on the Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a secondary school teacher, food service manager, and deli cutter. (AR 20.) Accordingly, the ALJ did not proceed to step five, and instead, found that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from the AOD through the date of the decision. (AR 21.)


         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. A court must affirm an ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence, and if the proper legal standards were applied. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001). "‘Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). An ALJ can satisfy the substantial evidence requirement "by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 725 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

         "[T]he Commissioner's decision cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Rather, a court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the Secretary's conclusion." Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotations omitted). "‘Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, ' the ALJ's decision should be upheld." Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)); see also Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 ("If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion, we may not substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ."). The Court may 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." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 874 (9th Cir. 2003)).


         Plaintiff's sole contention is that the ALJ erred in finding his subjective complaints not credible. (Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint ("Pl. Memo.") at 4-9, Dkt. No. 18.) The Commissioner contends that the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. (Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Answer ("Def. Memo.") at 2-8, Dkt. No. 22.) For the reasons below, the Court agrees with the Commissioner.

         A. The ALJ's Credibility Determination Is Supported By Substantial Evidence

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's finding that his subjective complaints are not fully credible is unsupported by clear and convincing evidence. See Pl. Memo. at 4-9. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's reasons for finding Plaintiff not fully credible are supported by substantial evidence. See Def. Memo. at 2-8.

         1. Plaintiff's Testimony

         At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that he was born on September 27, 1958, and has a degree in business. (AR 38.) He last worked in February 2013 for one day, and prior to that, he last worked in May 2012 as a machine operator and forklift operator in a warehouse. (AR 39.) Prior to the ...

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