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Saragena v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

February 10, 2017

REGINALDO SARAGENA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING FINAL DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

          Barry M. Kurren, United Stales Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is an appeal from a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security, which denied Plaintiff Reginaldo S. Saragena's (“Plaintiff”) concurrent applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. For the reasons detailed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's final decision.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 7, 2012, Plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. (Complaint at 1.) Plaintiff also protectively filed an application for supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Id.) In his applications, Plaintiff alleged he was disabled as of June 14, 2010, but later amended his disability date to January 2, 2013. (AR at 11.)

         Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on January 25, 2013. (Id.) He thereafter requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which took place on August 12, 2014. (Id.) On October 31, 2014, the ALJ issued a written opinion, concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled and denying his applications for social security benefits. (Id. at 11-21.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “hypertension; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a history of left shoulder biceps tendon rupture and shoulder SLAP lesion; and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine.” (Id. at 13.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform “light work” and that he could no longer perform any of his past relevant work as a construction worker, landscaper, or fish processor. (Id. at 14, 19.) However, based on Plaintiff's age (51 years old on the disability date), education (at least a high school education), work experience (as a construction worker, landscaper, and fish processor), and residual functional capacity (capacity to perform “light work”), the ALJ concluded that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform” - i.e., employment as a cashier, office helper, or parking attendant. (Id. at 20-21.) As a result, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled.

         Plaintiff thereafter appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 13, 2016. (AR at 1.) Consequently, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (Id.)

         On June 17, 2016, Plaintiff appealed the final agency decision to this Court, contending that the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff was not disabled was not supported by substantial evidence and was based upon incorrect legal standards.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review final decisions of the Commissioner of Social Security. A final decision by the Commissioner denying Social Security disability benefits will not be disturbed by the reviewing district court if it is free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2005). “Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance.” Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). It is also “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. Finally, “[w]here the evidence may reasonably support more than one interpretation, [the court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Verduzco, 188 F.3d at 1089.

         DISCUSSION

         “To establish a claimant's eligibility for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, it must be shown that: (a) the claimant suffers from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months; and (b) the impairment renders the claimant incapable of performing the work that the claimant previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). A claimant must satisfy both requirements in order to qualify as “disabled” under the Social Security Act. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.

         The Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. Ukolov, 420 F.3d at 1003; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. “If a claimant is found to be ‘disabled' or ‘not disabled' at any step in the sequence, there is no need to consider subsequent steps.” Ukolov, 420 F.3d at 1003 (citations omitted in original). The claimant bears the burden of proof as to steps one through four, whereas the burden shifts to the Commissioner for step five. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.

         The five steps of the disability evaluation process are as follows:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will ...

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