Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Renteria v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 16, 2013

Kenny Renteria,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


MICHELLE H. BURNS, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Kenny Renteria's appeal from the Social Security Administration's final decision to deny his claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. After reviewing the administrative record and the arguments of the parties, the Court now issues the following ruling.


On May 7, 2009, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, alleging disability beginning December 22, 2006. (Transcript of Administrative Record ("Tr.") at 135-44, 13.) His applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. at 67-74, 77-83.) On May 28, 2010, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. at 84-85, 13.) A hearing was held on October 19, 2011. (Tr. at 31-62.) On October 24, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision in which he found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. at 10-30.) Thereafter, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 7-9.)

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request, (Tr. at 1-6), thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


The Court must affirm the ALJ's findings if the findings are supported by substantial evidence and are free from reversible legal error. See Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Marcia v. Sullivan , 900 F.2d 172, 174 (9th Cir. 1990). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" and "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720.

In determining whether substantial evidence supports a decision, the Court considers the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. See Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720. "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); see Magallanes v. Bowen , 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the [Commissioner's] conclusion, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Reddick , 157 F.3d at 720-21.


In order to be eligible for disability or social security benefits, a claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An ALJ determines a claimant's eligibility for benefits by following a five-step sequential evaluation:

(1) determine whether the applicant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity";
(2) determine whether the applicant has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments;
(3) determine whether the applicant's impairment equals one of a number of listed impairments that the Commissioner acknowledges as so severe as to preclude the applicant from engaging in substantial gainful activity;
(4) if the applicant's impairment does not equal one of the listed impairments, determine whether the applicant is capable of performing his or her past relevant work;
(5) if the applicant is not capable of performing his or her past relevant work, determine whether the applicant is able to perform other work in the national economy in view of his age, education, and work experience.

See Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920). At the fifth stage, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can perform other substantial gainful work. See Penny v. Sullivan , 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993).

At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 22, 2006 - the alleged onset date. (Tr. at 15.) At step two, he found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: arthritis; obesity; degenerative disc disease; tobacco abuse; narcotic abuse; abdominal pain; and torn meniscus with bilateral knee pain. (Tr. at 15-18.) At step three, the ALJ stated that 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, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of the Commissioner's regulations. (Tr. at 18.) After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained "the residual functional capacity to perform light work... except for the following limitations: the claimant is capable of occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching, crawling, and kneeling; but is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, and/or scaffolds. The claimant is to avoid concentrated use of moving machinery; and avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights. He is capable of simple, unskilled work."[1] (Tr. at 18-23.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, but based on his age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Tr. at 23-25.) Therefore, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from December 22, 2006, through the date of his decision. (Tr. at 25.)


In his brief, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to find him illiterate; (2) failing to properly consider his subjective complaints; and (3) failing to properly weigh medical source opinion evidence. Plaintiff requests that the Court remand for determination of benefits.

A. Plaintiff's Ability to Read and Write

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to find him illiterate. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that "[t]he ALJ ignor[ed] the evidence demonstrating illiteracy resulting in a mischaracterization of evidence and legal error." Plaintiff alleges that a finding of functional illiteracy is supported by his own testimony; the findings of consultative examiner Joanna Woods, Psy.D.; and the testimony of vocational expert Nathan Dean. Plaintiff states that a determination of disabled is mandatory pursuant to GRID Rule 202.09.[2]

In evaluating a claimant's education, the Social Security Administration uses the following categories:

(1) Illiteracy. Illiteracy means the inability to read or write. We consider someone illiterate if the person cannot read or write a simple message such as instructions or inventory lists even though the person can sign his or her name. Generally, an illiterate person has had little or no formal schooling.
(2) Marginal education. Marginal education means ability in reasoning, arithmetic, and language skills which are needed to do simple, unskilled types of jobs. We generally consider that formal schooling at a 6th grade level or less is a marginal education.
(3) Limited education. Limited education means ability in reasoning, arithmetic, and language skills, but not enough to allow a person with these educational qualifications to do most of the more complex job duties needed in semi-skilled or skilled jobs. We generally consider that a 7th grade through the 11th grade level of formal education is a limited education.
(4) High school education and above. High school education and above means abilities in reasoning, arithmetic, and language skills acquired through formal schooling at a 12th grade level or above. We generally consider that someone with these educational abilities can do semi-skilled through skilled work....

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1564(b)(1)-(4), 416.964(b)(1)-(4). The Administration also emphasizes that the numerical grade level that the claimant completed in school may not represent his actual educational abilities - these may be higher or lower. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1564(b), 416.964(b)(1)-(4). However, if there is no other evidence to contradict the numerical grade level, an ALJ will use it to determine a claimant's educational abilities. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1564(b), 416.964(b).

Plaintiff, who was 51-years-old at the time of the hearing, testified to the following regarding his education and ability to read and write:

Q And what is the highest level of education you obtained?
A I started ninth grade but never finished.
Q Okay. So you completed eighth?
A I completed ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.