United States District Court, D. Nevada
PATRICIA L. JAMES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
WEKSLER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
case involves review of an administrative action by the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
denying Patricia L. James' (Plaintiff's) application
for disability insurance benefits under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act. The court reviewed Plaintiff's
Motion for Reversal and/or Remand (ECF No. 15), filed
September 4, 2018, and Defendant's Cross Motion to Affirm
and Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Reversal and/or
Remand (ECF Nos. 16, 17), filed October 5, 2018. Plaintiff
replied on October 22, 2018. (ECF No. 18.) The parties
consented to adjudication by a magistrate judge (ECF No. 14),
and this matter was referred to the undersigned on May 2,
2019. (ECF No. 21.)
March 4, 2015, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and
XVI of the Act, alleging an onset date of October 27, 2014.
404-415. Plaintiff subsequently amended her onset date to
August 15, 2015. AR 130, 161. The Commissioner denied
Plaintiff's claims initially and upon reconsideration. AR
310-12, 313-15, 320-24, 325-29. A hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on September 27, 2017. AR
156-97. On October 18, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision
finding Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 127-44. On October 30,
2017, Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the
ALJ's decision. AR 403. The Appeals Council denied this
request on March 13, 2018, making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-7. On May 16, 2018,
Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). (See ECF No. 1.)
The ALJ Decision
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process set
forth in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920.
one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not engage in
substantial gainful activity since August 15, 2015. AR 132.
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: cervicalgia, degenerative disc disease of the
cervical and lumbar spine, headaches, and mild right carpal
tunnel syndrome. Id.
three, the ALJ determined Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Part
404, Subpt. P, App. 1 (the listings). AR 134.
the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR
§§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), consisting of lifting
or carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently;
standing and/or walking for up to six hours in an eight-hour
work day; and sitting for up to six hours in an eight-hour
workday. The ALJ further found Plaintiff could frequently
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ramps or
stairs, but she could never climb ropes, ladders, or
scaffolds. Due to bilateral upper extremity problems,
Plaintiff was limited to frequent reaching with her right
upper extremity and occasional overhead reaching with her
bilateral upper extremities. The Plaintiff is also not able
to perform work at unprotected heights or around dangerous
moving machinery. AR 134.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform past
relevant work as a cashier, customer service representative,
housekeeper, sales attendant, and worker in general hardware
sales. AR 137. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
not disabled from August 15, 2015 through the date of his
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
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.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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 Ninth Circuit reviews a
decision affirming, modifying, or reversing a decision of the
Commissioner de novo. See Batson v. Commissioner,
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); see Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec.
Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006). However,
the Commissioner's findings may be set aside if they are
based on legal error or not supported by substantial
evidence. See Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d 1002,
1004 (9th Cir. 2005); 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 insufficient.
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. (citing Baerga v.
Richardson, 500 F.2d 309, 312 (3d Cir. 1974), cert.
denied, 420 U.S. 931 (1975).).