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Meyer v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 10, 2019

LILLIAN K. MEYER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE [1]

         This case involves the judicial review of an administrative action by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying Lillian Meyer's (“Meyer”) application for supplemental security income payments pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383. Currently pending before the Court is Meyer's motion to submit new evidence, which the Court construes as a motion for remand. (ECF No. 13.) In this motion, Meyer seeks remand on the basis of new medical evidence. (Id.) The Commissioner filed an opposition (ECF No. 14), and Meyer filed a reply (ECF No. 15). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court recommends that Meyer's motion for remand, (ECF No. 13), be denied.

         I. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Judicial Standard of Review

         This Court's review of administrative decisions in social security disability benefits cases is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Akopyan v. Barnhart, 296 F.3d 852, 854 (9th Cir. 2002). Section 405(g) provides that “[a]ny 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 transcript 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 Court must affirm an Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) determination if it is based on proper legal standards and the findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Stout v. Comm'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive”). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)); see also Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005).

         To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the Court must look at the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and undermines the ALJ's decision. Orteza v. Shalala, 50 F.3d 748, 749 (9th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Under the substantial evidence test, a court must uphold the Commissioner's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record. Batson v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2003). “However, if evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the decision of the ALJ must be upheld.” Shalala, 50 F.3d at 749 (citation omitted). The ALJ alone is responsible for determining credibility and for resolving ambiguities. Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111, 1113 (9th Cir. 1999).

         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 substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision. 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, so that a reviewing court may know the basis for the decision. See Gonzalez v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1197, 1200 (9th Cir. 1990).

         B. Standards Applicable to Disability Evaluation Process

         The individual seeking disability benefits bears 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 his claim for disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1514. If the individual establishes an inability to perform his prior work, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the individual can perform other substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998).

         The first step requires the ALJ to determine whether the individual is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). SGA is defined as work activity that is both substantial and gainful; it involves doing significant physical or mental activities, usually for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572(a)-(b), 416.972(a)-(b). If the individual is currently engaging in SGA, then a finding of not disabled is made. If the individual is not engaging in SGA, then the analysis proceeds to the second step.

         The second step addresses whether the individual has a medically determinable impairment that is severe or a combination of impairments that significantly limits him from performing basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). An impairment or combination of impairments is not severe when medical and other evidence establish only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities that would have no more than a minimal effect on the individual's ability to work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521, 416.921; Social Security Rulings (“SSRs”) 85-28 and 96-3p.1 If the individual does not have a severe medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments, then a finding of not disabled is made. If the individual has a severe medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments, then the analysis proceeds to the third step.

         The third step requires the ALJ to determine whether the individual's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926. If the individual's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals the criteria of a listing and meets the duration requirement (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 416.909), then a finding of disabled is made. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(h), 416.920(h). If the individual's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal the criteria of a listing or meet the duration requirement, then the analysis proceeds to the next step.

         Prior to considering step four, the ALJ must first determine the individual's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). The RFC is a function-by-function assessment of the individual's ability to do physical and mental work-related activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from impairments. SSR 96-8p. In making this finding, the ALJ must consider all of the symptoms, including pain, and the extent to which the symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529 and 416.929; SSRs 96-4p, 96-7p. To the extent that objective medical evidence does not substantiate statements about the intensity, persistence, or functionally-limiting effects of pain or other symptoms, the ALJ must make a finding on the credibility of the individual's statements based on a consideration of the entire case record. The ALJ must also consider opinion evidence in accordance with the requirements of 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527 and 416.927 and SSRs 96-2p, 96-5p, 96-6p, and 06-3p.

         After making the RFC determination, the ALJ must then turn to step four in order to determine whether the individual has the RFC to perform her past relevant work (“PRW”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). PRW means work performed either as the individual actually performed it or as it is generally performed in the national economy within the last 15 years or 15 years prior to the date that disability must be established. In addition, the work must have lasted long enough for the individual to learn the job and performed at SGA. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(b), 404.1565, 416.960(b), 416.965. If the individual has the RFC to perform his ...


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