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Luna v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

May 28, 2013

Ricardo Enrique Luna, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


D. THOMAS FERRARO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ricardo Luna brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). Before the Court are Plaintiff's opening brief, Defendant's Response and a Reply (Docs. 17, 20, 23.) The parties consented to exercise of jurisdiction by a Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (Docs. 8, 11.) The Court finds this case should be remanded for further proceedings.


Luna filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on March 11, 2009.[1] (Administrative Record (AR) 133.) Luna alleged disability from March 1, 2009. (AR 133.) Luna's application was denied upon initial review (AR 69) and on reconsideration (AR 74). A hearing was held on September 30, 2009 (AR 39-66), after which ALJ Larry E. Johnson found that Luna was not disabled (AR 10-17). The Appeals Council denied Luna's request to review the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.)


Luna was born on December 14, 1966, making him 42 at the alleged onset date of his disability. (AR 133.) From 1993 to 2005, Luna worked in construction and as a cook, earning negligible amounts some years up to approximately $11, 000 for a few of the years. (AR 141, 154, 156.) Luna stopped working in May 2005, due to surgery for ulcers. (AR 154.) Luna alleges he is unable to work due to psychological impairments. He has received all of his mental health services from La Frontera, with records spanning from January 2009 to September 2011.

The ALJ found that Luna had one severe impairment, affective disorder. (AR 12.) The ALJ noted that Luna alleged additional mental health issues, PTSD, mood swings, auditory hallucinations and lack of concentration, but determined that these were not severe in light of his lack of participation in treatment and/or the fact that they were resolved with medication. (AR 12-13.) The ALJ determined that Luna had the capacity to perform work at all exertional levels with limited exposure to co-workers, supervisors and the general public. (AR 15.) The ALJ ultimately concluded Luna could perform his past relevant work as a cook and, based on the Medical-Vocational Rules, Luna could perform other work available in the national economy. (AR 16-17.)


The Commissioner employs a five-step sequential process to evaluate SSI claims. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; see also Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-462 (1983). To establish disability the claimant bears the burden of showing he (1) is not working; (2) has a severe physical or mental impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; and (4) claimant's RFC precludes him from performing his past work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant has the RFC to perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). If the Commissioner conclusively finds the claimant "disabled" or "not disabled" at any point in the five-step process, he does not proceed to the next step. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

"The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989)). The findings of the Commissioner are meant to be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Matney v. Sullivan, 981 F.2d 1016, 1018 (9th Cir. 1992)). The court may overturn the decision to deny benefits only "when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001). This is so because the ALJ "and not the reviewing court must resolve conflicts in the evidence, and if the evidence can support either outcome, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Matney, 981 F.2d at 1019 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 400 (1971)); Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1198 (9th Cir. 2004). The Commissioner's decision, however, "cannot be affirmed simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Sousa v. Callahan, 143 F.3d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)). Reviewing courts must consider the evidence that supports as well as detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion. Day v. Weinberger, 522 F.2d 1154, 1156 (9th Cir. 1975).


Luna alleges the ALJ committed four errors, that he failed to properly evaluate the opinions of Luna's treating providers; failed to properly evaluate lay witness testimony; failed to properly evaluate Luna's credibility; and improperly relied upon the vocational guidelines at Step Five.

Treating Providers

Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to give weight to the favorable medical evidence from his treating records. Plaintiff also argues there was no basis to dismiss the opinions of his treating medical professionals. However, Plaintiff does not point to any "medical source opinions, " and there are none in the records. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(c) (discussing medical source opinions about the claimant's abilities to ...

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