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Flores v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 22, 2016

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




         Plaintiff Richard Flores (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties’ briefs, [1] which were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe, for findings and recommendations. Having considered the moving papers and the Court’s file, the Court finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to be supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and based upon proper legal standards, and recommends that the Court affirm the Commissioner’s denial of benefits.


         On May 24, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging disability beginning on October 30, 2009. AR 182- 89, 251. Plaintiff asserted that he became disabled on October 30, 2009, due to a lacroscopic bilateral inguinal hernia. AR 65. Plaintiff’s claims were denied initially on July 28, 2011 and upon reconsideration on November 4, 2011. AR 112-16, 118-22. Plaintiff subsequently filed a written request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). AR 123-24. On December 18, 2012, the ALJ held a hearing; Plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. AR 30-58. In a decision dated January 14, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled from October 30, 2009, his alleged onset of disability date, through the date of the decision. AR 15-24. Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ’s decision, and the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request. AR 1-5. This appeal followed.


         Using the Social Security Administration’s five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 30, 2009, his alleged onset date. AR 17. Second, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease; bilateral inguinal hernias, status post repair; history of hydrocele, status post hydrocelectomy; ilioinguinal nerve pain; and atrial fibrillation, status post ablation. AR 17. Third, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have a listed impairment or combination of impairments. AR 19.

         After carefully reviewing the entire record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; and siting, standing, and walking 6 hours in an 8-hour day with an option to sit/stand at will. AR 19. The ALJ also found Plaintiff could occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, climb, and kneel, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. AR 19. At the fourth step, the ALJ found Plaintiff could not perform any of his past relevant work. AR 22. However, at the fifth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. AR 23. Therefore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 24.


         In order to qualify for benefits, a claimant must establish that he or she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c (a)(3)(A). A claimant must show that he or she has a physical or mental impairment of such severity that he or she is not only unable to do his or her previous work, but cannot, considering his or her age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. Quang Van Han v. Bowen, 882 F.2d 1453, 1456 (9th Cir. 1989). The burden is on the claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990).


         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), a Court may set aside a denial of benefits only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. Robbins v. Social Security Administration, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Flaten v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995)). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971) (citations and quotations omitted). It is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (citing Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 183 (9th Cir. 1990)).

         To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must “consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner’s] conclusion.’” Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993)). If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the ALJ’s conclusion, a court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (citing Flaten, 44 F.3d at 1457).

         DIS ...

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