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Tea Cisneros-Dysthe v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Nevada

May 10, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.




         Before the Court is Plaintiff Tea Cisneros-Dysthe's Motion for Remand, ECF No. 17, and Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill's Cross-Motion to Affirm, ECF No. 18.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision contains no legal error and is supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the Court denies Plaintiff's Motion for Remand and grants Defendant's Cross-Motion to Affirm.


         On October 22, 2013, Plaintiff completed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging disability since April 1, 2003. AR 114. Plaintiff was denied initially and upon administrative reconsideration. AR 150-53, 157-59. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and appeared on December 1, 2015. AR 43. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged disability onset date to December 23, 2011. AR 43, 85-86. In an opinion dated January 21, 2016, ALJ Berry Jenkins found Plaintiff not disabled. AR 43-54. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 5, 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision final. AR 1-7.

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining Social Security disability claims set forth at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one, that ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 22, 2013, the application date. AR 45. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: obesity, dysfunction of major joints, lupus, depression, anxiety, personality disorder, fibromyalgia, and Sjogren's syndrome. AR 45. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. AR 45-48.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following limitations: she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but can perform all other postural activities occasionally; she must avoid concentrated exposure to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights and operational control of moving machinery; and she is limited to simple tasks typical of unskilled occupations with no production rate pace work. AR 48.

         Based on this RFC, the ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a general office clerk. AR 52. At the last step, the ALJ determined based on the vocational expert's testimony that Plaintiff can perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. AR 53-54. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled. AR 54.


         42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides for judicial review of the Commissioner's disability determinations and authorizes district courts to enter “a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” In undertaking that review, an ALJ's “disability determination should be upheld unless it contains legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence.” Garrison v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 995, 1009 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). “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.” Id. (quoting Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)) (quotation marks omitted).

         “If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing a decision, [a reviewing court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035. Nevertheless, the Court may not simply affirm by selecting a subset of the evidence supporting the ALJ's conclusion, nor can the Court affirm on a ground on which the ALJ did not rely. Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1009-10. Rather, the Court must “review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and that which detracts from the ALJ's conclusion, ” to determine whether that conclusion is supported by substantial evidence. Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

         “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities.” Id. When determining the credibility of a claimant's testimony, the ALJ engages in a two-step analysis. Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1014-15. First, the claimant must have presented objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment “which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain or other symptoms alleged.” Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035-36 (quoting Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 344 (9th Cir. 1991)). The claimant does not need to produce evidence of the symptoms alleged or their severity, but she must show the impairments could reasonably cause some degree of the symptoms. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1282 (9th Cir. 1996). Second, the ALJ determines the credibility of the claimant's testimony regarding the severity of her symptoms. Garrison at 1014-15. Unless affirmative evidence supports a finding of malingering, the ALJ may only reject the claimant's testimony by providing “specific findings as to credibility and stating clear and convincing reasons for each.” Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 883 (9th Cir. 2006).

         The Social Security Act has established a five-step sequential evaluation procedure for determining Social Security disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1010. “The burden of proof is on the claimant at steps one through four, but shifts to the Commissioner at step five.” Garrison, 759 F.3d at 1011. Here, the ALJ resolved Plaintiff's claim at step five. At step five, the ALJ determines based on the claimant's RFC whether ...

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