United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ORDER AFFIRMING ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S
C. KAY SR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
reasons below, the Court AFFIRMS the administrative law
judge's denial of benefits and supplemental security
income to Plaintiff.
January 30, 2014, Plaintiff Tina Cajigal (formerly known as
Tina Young) filed an application for a period of disability
and for disability insurance benefits. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 66; see also AR 21, 75. Plaintiff
also protectively filed a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income on March 26, 2014. AR 21, 164.
In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning
May 3, 2012. AR 66, 162, 164.
claims were initially denied on September 25, 2014, AR 66-74,
and upon reconsideration on February 26, 2015. AR 91-103.
Thereafter, on March 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed a written
request for a hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), AR 121, and a hearing was held on May
26, 2016, AR 134. On June 27, 2016, the ALJ issued a written
decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. AR 18-30. Plaintiff
filed a request with the Appeals Council to review the
ALJ's decision on August 23, 2016. AR 160-61. The Appeals
Council denied her request and adopted the ALJ's decision
as the final decision of the Commission on July 21, 2017. AR
filed her complaint on September 22, 2017, seeking a review
of the denial of her applications. ECF No. 1. On May 1, 2018,
Plaintiff filed her opening brief (“Op. Br.”).
ECF No. 17. Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”), filed her answering
brief on May 18, 2018 (“Ans. Br.”). ECF No. 20.
Plaintiff filed her reply brief on May 25, 2018 (“Reply
Br.”). ECF No. 21.
Court has scheduled a hearing on Plaintiff's requested
review of the Commissioner's decision at 11:00 a.m. on
Wednesday, June 13, 2018.
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 and supplemental
security income will not be disturbed by the reviewing
district court if the decision is free of legal error and
supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Dale v. Colvin, 823 F.3d 941, 943
(9th Cir. 2016); Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501
(9th Cir. 1989).
determining the existence of substantial evidence, the
administrative record must be considered as a whole, weighing
the evidence that both supports and detracts from the
Commissioner's factual conclusions. See Gutierrez v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 740 F.3d 519, 523 (9th Cir.
2014). “Substantial evidence means more than a
scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. (internal quotation
“[i]f the evidence can reasonably support either
affirming or reversing, the reviewing court may not
substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner.”
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted); McCartey
v. Massanari, 298 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2002)
(explaining that if “the record considered as a whole
can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the
Commissioner's decision, we must affirm”). This
principle recognizes the ALJ's ability “to
determine credibility, resolve conflicts in the testimony,
and resolve ambiguities in the record.” Treichler
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 775 F.3d 1090, 1098
(9th Cir. 2014).
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.” Tackett v.
Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999); see
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). A claimant must satisfy both
requirements in order to qualify as “disabled”
under the Social Security Act. Tackett, 180 F.3d at
The SSA's Five-Step Process for Determining
Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential
process for determining whether a claimant is disabled.
Ukolov v. Barnhart, 420 F.3d 1002, 1003 (9th
Cir.2005); 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, but
the burden shifts to the Social Security Administration at
step five. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.
one, the ALJ considers a claimant's work activity, if
any. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). Where the ALJ finds
the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he
will determine that the claimant is not disabled, regardless
of the claimant's medical condition, age, education, or
work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Substantial
gainful activity is work that is defined as both
substantial-i.e. work activity involving significant
physical or mental activities-and gainful-i.e. work
activity done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572.
If the ALJ finds that the claimant is not engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the analysis proceeds to step
two. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098.
two requires the ALJ to consider the medical severity of the
claimant's impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)
(4)(ii). Only if the claimant has an impairment or
combination of impairments that “significantly limits
[her] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities” will the analysis proceed to step three. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If not, the ALJ will find that the
claimant is not disabled and the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R.
severity of the claimant's impairments is also considered
at step three. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). There,
the ALJ determines whether a claimant's impairments meet
or medically equal the criteria of an impairment specifically
described in the regulations. Id.; see also
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1. If the impairments do
meet or equal these criteria, the claimant is deemed disabled
and the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If not, the analysis proceeds to step four. 20 C.F.R. §
four, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). Id. An RFC
is the most the claimant can still do in a work setting
despite her physical and/or mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545(a)(1). In assessing a claimant's RFC, the
ALJ will consider all of the relevant evidence in the
claimant's case record regarding both severe and
non-severe impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. This
assessment is then used to determine whether the claimant can
still perform her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e). Past relevant work is defined as “work
that [the claimant has] done within the past 15 years, that
was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough
for [the claimant] to learn to do it.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(b)(1). The ALJ will find that the claimant is not
disabled if she can still perform her past relevant work, at
which point the analysis ends. Otherwise, the ALJ moves to
fifth and final step, the ALJ will once again consider the
claimant's RFC-along with her age, education, and work
experience-in order to determine whether the claimant can
perform other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). Here,
the Commissioner is responsible for providing “evidence
that demonstrates that other work exists in significant
numbers in the national economy that [the claimant] can
do.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2). If the claimant
is unable to perform other work, she is deemed disabled; if
she can make an adjustment to other available work, she is
considered not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)(1).
The ALJ's Analysis
Steps One, Two, and Three
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in gainful
activity since May 3, 2012, the alleged onset date, and at
step two, that she suffered from the following severe
impairments: post laminectomy syndrome in the lumbar spine
and degenerative lumbar disc disease. AR 23. At step three,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. AR 24. Plaintiff does not contest the
findings the ALJ made at these steps.
Steps Four and Five
steps four and five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has
the RFC to perform light work. AR 24. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff “could not climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds
but otherwise would have occasional limitation in postural
movements; she must avoid moderate exposure to hazards; and
she must alternate positions, approximately every 30 minutes
from sitting to standing, and from standing to sitting . . .
.” AR 24. The ALJ further determined at step four that
Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. AR 28.
At step five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not
disabled because there is other work she can perform in the
national economy. AR 29.
on the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff was not disabled, the
ALJ denied Plaintiff's applications for disability