United States District Court, D. Nevada
AMENDED REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
HODMAN, 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 April Beyrent's (“Plaintiff”)
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The court
has reviewed Plaintiff's motion for reversal or to remand
(ECF No. 22), filed April 3, 2018, and the Commissioner's
response and cross-motion to affirm (ECF Nos. 26, 25), filed
June 4, 2018, and Plaintiff's reply (ECF No. 27), filed
June 25, 2018.
March 17, 2014, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Act, alleging an onset date of
August 20, 2013. AR 138-146. Plaintiff's claim was denied
initially, and on reconsideration. AR 96-99. A hearing was
held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
on November 25, 2015. AR 50-82. On March 9, 2016, the ALJ
issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. AR
29-45. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's
final decision when the Appeals Council denied review. AR
4-11. Plaintiff, on September 19, 2017, commenced this action
for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g).
(See Compl. (ECF No. 4).)
The ALJ Decision
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process set
forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. AR
32-34. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity from the alleged
onset date of August 20, 2013 through her date last insured
of December 31, 2014. AR 34. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had medically determinable “severe”
impairments of degenerative disc disease. 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 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 34-35. At step four, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(a) except that she cannot climb ladders or scaffolds
and can only occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
climb stairs. She needs to alternate sitting and standing
approximately every 30 minutes. Id. The ALJ found
that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work.
AR 39. Plaintiff was born on August 18, 1973 and was 41 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44 on
the date last insured. Id. Plaintiff has at least a
high school education and is able to communicate in English.
Id. Transferability of job skills is not material to
the determination of disability. Id. Through the
date last insured, considering the claimant's age,
education, work experience, and the residual functional
capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that the claimant could have performed.
Id. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
was not under a disability at any time from August 20, 2013,
through December 31, 2014, the date last insured. AR 40.
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.
Disability Evaluation Process
individual seeking disability benefits has the initial burden
of proving disability. Roberts v. Shalala, 66 F.3d
179, 182 (9th Cir. 1995). To meet this burden, the individual
must demonstrate the “inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected . . . to last for a continuous period of not less
than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). More
specifically, the individual must provide “specific
medical evidence” in support of her claim for
disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1514. If the individual
establishes an inability to perform her prior ...