United States District Court, D. Nevada
NATHAN A. JOYCE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
FERENBACH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter involves Plaintiff Nathan A. Joyce's appeal from
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill's (the
“Commissioner's”) final decision denying
Joyce disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. Before the Court are Joyce's Motion for Reversal
and/or Remand (ECF No. 17), the Commissioner's
Cross-Motion to Affirm and Response to Plaintiff's Motion
for Reversal and/or Remand (ECF No. 18), and Joyce's
Reply (ECF No. 20). The undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge has received the written consent of both parties and
now presides over this case under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. (See ECF No.
21). The Court has reviewed the record in this case, the
briefs of the parties, and Ninth Circuit law. For the reasons
stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
Joyce is a 51-year-old male who filed a Title II application
for disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application
for supplemental security income on April 4, 2013.
(See ECF No. 16-1 at 221, 228).For both
applications, Joyce is alleging disability beginning on
September 26, 2012. (Id.). The claims were denied
initially on September 5, 2013, and on reconsideration on
March 7, 2014. (Id. at 155, 165, 170). Shortly
thereafter, Joyce filed a written request for hearing.
(Id. at 175). In May 2015, Joyce, Joyce's
attorney, and vocational expert Gerald Davis, appeared and
testified at a hearing in Las Vegas. (Id. at 49). In
June 2015, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
issued an unfavorable decision. (Id. at 22). Joyce
appealed. (Id. at 17). The Appeals Council declined
review in September 2016, making the ALJ's decision
final. (Id. at 1). Joyce then timely initiated the
instant action. (See ECF No. 1).
appeal challenges the ALJ's decision on one issue:
whether the ALJ articulated clear and convincing reasons for
discounting Joyce's subjective testimony and complaints?
Standard of Review
Fifth Amendment prohibits the Government from depriving
persons of property without due process of law. (See
U.S. Const. amend. V.). Social security claimants have a
constitutionally protected property interest in social
security benefits. (See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424
U.S. 319 (1976); see also Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914
F.2d 1197, 1203 (9th Cir. 1990)). Where, as here, the
Commissioner of Social Security renders a final decision
denying a claimant's benefits, the Social Security Act
authorizes the District Court to review the
Commissioner's decision. (See 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(c);
District Court's review is limited. (See Brown-Hunter
v. Colvin, 806 F.3d 487, 492 (9th Cir. 2015) (“For
highly fact-intensive individualized determinations like a
claimant's entitlement to disability benefits, Congress
‘places a premium upon agency expertise, and, for the
sake of uniformity, it is usually better to minimize the
opportunity for reviewing courts to substitute their
discretion for that of the agency.'” (quoting
Treichler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775
F.3d 1090, 1098 (9th Cir. 2014)))).
Court examines the Commissioner's decision to determine
whether (1) the Commissioner applied the correct legal
standards and (2) the decision is supported by
“substantial evidence.” (See Batson v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th
Cir. 2004)). Substantial evidence is defined as “more
than a mere scintilla” of evidence. (See Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also
Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995)).
This means such relevant “evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
(See Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197
(1938) (defining “a mere scintilla” of evidence);
see also Gutierrez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740
F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir. 2014) (“The court must consider
the record as a whole and weigh ‘both the evidence that
supports and the evidence that detracts from the
ALJ's' factual conclusions.” (quoting Mayes
v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001)))).
evidence supports more than one interpretation, the Court
must uphold the Commissioner's interpretation. (See
Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005);
see also Bowling v. Shalala, 36 F.3d 431, 434 (5th
Cir. 1988) (“we may not reweigh evidence, try the case
de novo, or overturn the Commissioner's decision
if the evidence preponderates against it.”) (quotation
marks and citation omitted). In weighing the evidence and
making findings, the ALJ must apply the proper legal
standards. (See Gutierrez, 740 F.3d at 523 (citing
Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d
1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009); Benton v. Barnhart, 331
F.3d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003))).
The ALJ's 2015 Decision
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process set
forth at §§ 404.1520 and 416.920 and issued an
unfavorable decision against Joyce on June 18, 2015.
(See ECF No. 16-1 at 22). At step one, the ALJ found
that Joyce had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
from his alleged disability onset date of September 26, 2012.
(Id. at 27). At step two, the ALJ found that Joyce
had the following severe medical impairment for Social
Security purposes: disorder of the lumbar spine (20 C.F.R.
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c). (Id.).
three, the ALJ determined that Joyce did not have an
impairment, or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. (Id. at 29). Continuing
the process at step three, the ALJ reviewed the evidence
within the record and found that Joyce demonstrated the RFC
“to perform light work … except he cannot climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.” (Id.). The ALJ
found that Joyce “needs to avoid concentrated exposures
to excessive vibration, and all exposure to hazardous
machinery, unprotected heights, and operational control of
moving machinery.” (Id.). The ALJ also found
that Joyce “can stand and/or walk for four hours in an
eight-hour day.” (Id.).
four, the ALJ, relying on the testimony of vocational expert
Dr. Gerald Davis, found that Joyce was unable to perform his
past relevant work as a stock clerk, fast food worker,
cabinet assembler, cook, kitchen helper, construction worker,
laborer, carpenter, roofer, and drywall installer.
(Id. at 32). At step five, the ALJ again relied on
the testimony of the vocational expert, and considering
Joyce's age, education, work experience, and RFC, found
that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in
the national economy that Joyce could perform, such as locker
room attendant and electrical assembler. (Id. at
33). Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Joyce
was not disabled from September ...