United States District Court, D. Nevada
BLANCA M. HERNANDEZ-AGUIRRE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
RICHARD F. BOULWARE, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Plaintiff Blanca M. Hernandez-Aguirre's
Motion for Remand, ECF No. 18, and Defendant Nancy A.
Berryhill's Cross-Motion to Affirm, ECF No. 21.
reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the ALJ's
opinion is not supported by substantial evidence and contains
legal error that is not harmless. Therefore, the Court grants
Plaintiff's motion and remands to Defendant for an award
November 26, 2013, Plaintiff completed an application for
disability insurance benefits alleging disability since
September 14, 2013. AR 27. Plaintiff was denied initially on
June 2, 2014 and upon administrative reconsideration on May
1, 2015. AR 27. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and appeared on
August 25, 2016 with the assistance of a Spanish language
interpreter. AR 27, AR 50-57. In an opinion dated October 18,
2016, ALJ Cynthia R. Hoover found Plaintiff not disabled. AR
27-43. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review on October 27, 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision
final. AR 1-6.
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 his alleged onset date of September 14, 2013.
AR 28. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the
following impairments which were severe in combination: mild
degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, depressive
disorder, anxiety disorder, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus
(“HIV”). AR 28-29. At step three, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically
equal a listed impairment. AR 29-32.
found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(c). He found that Plaintiff can lift and carry
no more than twenty-five pounds frequently and fifty pounds
occasionally; she can sit for six hours, cumulatively, in an
eight-hour workday; she can stand and/or walk for six hours,
cumulatively, in an eight-hour workday; and she is relegated
to the performance of simple, repetitive tasks characteristic
of the unskilled occupational base. AR 32-42. Based on this
RFC, the ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff is capable of
performing her past relevant work as a house cleaner. AR
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
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.
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 four.