United States District Court, D. Nevada
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
NANCY J. KOPPE, Magistrate Judge.
This case involves judicial review of administrative action by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Freddie Jones' application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. Ch. 7. Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Reversal and/or Remand. Docket No. 24. The Commissioner filed a response in opposition and a Cross-Motion to Affirm. Docket Nos. 25, 26. No reply was filed. This action was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a report of findings and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and Local Rule IB 1-4.
A. Procedural History
On September 25, 2009, Plaintiff filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income alleging that he became disabled on September 21, 2009. See, e.g., Administrative Record ("A.R.") 121-133. His claims were denied initially on November 17, 2009, and upon reconsideration on May 24, 2010. A.R. 72-76, 78-83. On July 2, 2010, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A.R. 87-88. On July 18, 2011, Plaintiff, his attorney, and vocational expert appeared for a hearing before ALJ Susanne Lewald. See A.R. 45-67. On October 14, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from September 21, 2009 through the date of her decision. A.R. 22-34. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 4, 2013. A.R. 1-6.
On February 19, 2013, Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Docket No. 1-1 (complaint). Plaintiff filed an application for leave to appear in forma pauperis, which the Court initially denied as incomplete. Docket No. 4. The Court granted the amended application. Docket No. 6.
B. The ALJ Decision
The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920, and issued an unfavorable decision on October 14, 2011. A.R. 22-34. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014 and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 21, 2009. A.R. 27. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy; gout; degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder; and morbid obesity. A.R. 28. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. A.R. 28.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity for light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that the claimant can: sit up to 6 hours in an 8-hour work day; stand and walk short distances up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; perform all postural activities occasionally; and should avoid all work around unprotected heights. A.R. 28-31. At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform his past relevant work based on the vocational expert's testimony. A.R. 32. At step five, the ALJ found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform based on his age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity. A.R. 32-33. In doing so, the ALJ defined Plaintiff as a younger individual aged 18-49 on the alleged onset date who subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age, with at least a high school education, able to communicate in English, and found that the transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability. A.R. 32. The ALJ considered Medical Vocational Rules 202.21 and 202.14, which provide a framework for finding Plaintiff not disabled, along with vocational expert testimony that an individual with the same residual functional capacity and vocational factors could perform work as a hand packager, arcade attendant, and electronic assembler/battery assembler. A.R. 33. Based on all of these findings, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled and denied his applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. See A.R. 33-34.
A. Judicial Standard of Review
The Court's review of administrative decisions in social security disability benefits cases is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Akopyan v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 852, 854 (9th Cir. 2002). Section 405(g) provides that, "[a]ny individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action... brought in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides." The Court may enter, "upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Id.
The Commissioner's findings of fact are deemed conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. Id. To that end, the Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision denying benefits if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard and there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the decision. See, e.g., Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005). The Ninth Circuit defines substantial evidence as "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." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995). In determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. See, e.g., Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998).
Under the substantial evidence test, the Commissioner's findings must be upheld if supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Batson v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2003). When the evidence will support more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the Commissioner's interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). Consequently, the issue before this Court is not whether the Commissioner ...