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Nash v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 6, 2019

ERICA M. NASH O/B/O A.R.N.H., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BRENDA WEKSLER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The case involves review of an administrative action by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff A.R.N.H.'s (“Plaintiff”) application for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff is a minor.

         The court has reviewed Plaintiff's motion for reversal or remand (ECF No. 17), filed August 11, 2017, and the Commissioner's response and cross-motion to affirm (ECF Nos. 18 and 19), filed September 11, 2017. Plaintiff did not file a reply. This matter was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge on May 3, 2019 for a report of findings and recommendations under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and Local Rule IB 1-4.

         I. BACKGROUND

         1. Procedural History

         On July 19, 2012, Plaintiff's mother applied for supplemental security income on Plaintiff's behalf under Title XVI of the Act, alleging an onset date of February 1, 2008. AR[1] 64. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on November 26, 2012 and on reconsideration on January 14, 2014. AR 91-94, 101-104. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on May 1, 2015. AR 45-61. On October 2, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 21-39. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied review on December 16, 2016. AR 1-7. Plaintiff, on February 15, 2017, commenced this action for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (See IFP App. (ECF No. 1).)

         2.The ALJ Decision

         The ALJ followed the three-step sequential evaluation process set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). AR 27-39. At step one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 19, 2012. AR 27. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had a medically determinable “severe” combination of impairments of disruptive impulse control and conduct disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ found 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. Id. The ALJ also found Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equaled the severity of listings. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from July 19, 2012 through the date of the decision. AR 39.

         II. DISCUSSION

         1. Standard of Review

         Administrative 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) reads: “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).

         The 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, 1004 (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).

         Under 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.

         2. Disability ...


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