United States District Court, D. Nevada
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
HOFFMAN, JR.UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a
report of findings and recommendations under 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and Local Rule IB 1-4. The case involves
review of an administrative action by the Commissioner of
Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying
Plaintiff Sam Ceasario's (“Plaintiff”)
application for disability insurance benefits under Titles II
and XVI of the Social Security Act. The court has reviewed
Plaintiff's motion to remand (ECF No. 18), filed October
3, 2018, and the Commissioner's response and cross-motion
to affirm (ECF No. 25), filed January 17, 2019. Plaintiff did
not file a reply.
August 28, 2012, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and
XVI of the Act, alleging an onset date of May 9, 2006.
AR348, 350-357. Plaintiff's claim was
denied initially, and on reconsideration. AR 213-223, 224. A
hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on May 17, 2017. AR 53-89. On August 14,
2017, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not
disabled. AR 22-52. The ALJ's decision became the
Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council
denied review. AR 2-7. Plaintiff, on February 22, 2018,
commenced this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g). (See ECF Nos. 1, 4.)
The ALJ Decision
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process set
forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. AR
26-27. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity from the amended
alleged onset date of September 17, 2011. AR 27. At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following medically
determinable “severe” impairments: mild
degenerative joint disease of the right knee, status post
left clavicle fracture, depressive disorder not otherwise
specified, degenerative changes to the lumbosacral spine, and
morbid obesity as a secondary factor considered under SSR
02-1p. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment
in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 29. At step
four, the ALJ found that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform lifting up
to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, except he
would be further limited to: standing and walking up to 4
hours of an 8 hour day; sitting up to 6 hours of an 8 hour
day; with no direct overhead reaching bilaterally; no
climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequent balancing;
occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling and
climbing stairs or ramps; and, occasional exposure to
extremes of cold, vibration and hazards (i.e. heights and
dangerous moving machinery). As a result of mental
impairment, he would further be limited to: understanding,
carrying out, and remembering simple instructions, using
simple judgment, making simple work-related decisions, in a
work setting with no more than occasional changes in routine,
to perform simple work tasks with no more than brief and
superficial interactions with the public, and occasional
interaction with co-workers and supervisors. AR 30.
found that Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant
work as a taxicab driver because it exceeds his RFC. AR 43.
The claimant was born on March 7, 1968 and was 43 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the
alleged disability onset date. Id. The claimant has
a high school education and is able to communicate in
English. Id. Transferability of job skills is not
material to the determination of disability, because using
the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a
finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ”
whether or not he has transferable job skills. Id.
Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that he is able to perform,
according to the vocational expert. AR 44. Accordingly, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability at
any time from the amended alleged onset date of September 17,
2011, through the date of the decision. AR 45.
Standard of Review
decisions in social security disability benefits cases are
reviewed under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Akopyan v.
Barnhart, 296 F.3d 852, 854 (9th Cir. 2002). Section
405(g) states: “Any 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 transcripts 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 Ninth
Circuit reviews a decision affirming, modifying, or reversing
a decision of the Commissioner de novo. See Batson v.
Comm'r, 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004).
Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d 1002
(9th Cir. 2005). However, the Commissioner's findings may
be set aside if they are based on legal error or not
supported by substantial evidence. See Stout v.
Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th
Cir. 2006); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954
(9th Cir. 2002). 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); see also Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211,
1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). In determining whether the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence, the court “must review the administrative
record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports
and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's
conclusion.” Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715,
720 (9th Cir. 1998); see also Smolen v. Chater, 80
F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996).
the substantial evidence test, findings must be upheld if
supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.
Batson, 359 F.3d at 1193. When the evidence will
support more than one rational interpretation, the court must
defer to the Commissioner's interpretation. See Burch
v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005);
Flaten v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 44
F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). Consequently, the issue
before the court is not whether the Commissioner could
reasonably have reached a different conclusion, but whether
the final decision is supported by substantial evidence. It
is incumbent on the ALJ to make specific findings so that the
court does not speculate as to the basis of the findings when
determining if the Commissioner's decision is supported
by substantial evidence. Mere cursory findings of fact
without explicit statements as to what portions of the
evidence were accepted or rejected are not sufficient.
Lewin v. Schweiker, 654 F.2d 631, 634 (9th Cir.
1981). The ALJ's findings “should be as
comprehensive and analytical as feasible, and where
appropriate, should include a statement of subordinate
factual foundations on which the ultimate factual conclusions
are based.” Id.