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STRAND v. BARNHART

March 31, 2003

WILLIAM STRAND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles R. Breyer, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, proceeding in pro per, appeals defendant's denial of his application for social security disability benefits. Now before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Pursuant to Local Rule 16-5, the motions are submitted on the papers without oral argument. After carefully considering the parties' papers, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is DENIED and defendant's motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff William Strand filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on November 29, 1999. He alleged he had been disabled since November 30, 1996 due to several medical conditions, including anemia, right hand and wrist pain, arthritis, and osteoarthritis. The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, and by an administrative law judge ("ALJ") after a hearing on July 25, 2000. The Appeals Council denied further review. Plaintiff, representing himself, subsequently commenced the instant action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Mr. Strand is now sixty-two years old. He has a high school education and was the owner-operator of a small shoe store from 1984 until the time he claims he became disabled and unable to work. He alleges that the he became disabled on November 30, 1996 due to chronic anemia, an injured right hand and wrist, osteroporsis, and arthritis.

Mr. Strand injured his right distal radius in a fall on March 10, 1996. Although his fracture healed, he developed right carpal tunnel syndrome after the injury. Mr. Strand wore a wrist brace for his syndrome. While a January 1997 follow-up study showed little improvement, later studies, including one in June 1999, showed evidence of improvement. Nonetheless, Mr. Strand continues to complain of morning stiffness in his wrists. Mr. Strand also has a history of Dupuytren's syndrome, an abnormal thickening of a layer of fibrous tissue beneath the skin of the palm and fingers for which he was treated in June 1999 and April 2000.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court's jurisdiction is limited to determining whether the Social Security Administration's denial of benefits is supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A district court may overturn a decision to deny benefits only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if the decision is based on legal error. See Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995); Magallenes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). 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, 53 F.3d at 1039. Determinations of credibility, resolution of conflicts in medical testimony and all other ambiguities are to be resolved by the ALJ. See id; Magallenes, 881 F.2d at 750. The decision of the ALJ will be upheld if the evidence is "susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Andrews, 53 F.3d at 1040.

III. DISCUSSION

A. The ALJ's decision

In considering whether a claimant is entitled to benefits, an ALJ conducts a five-step sequential inquiry. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At the first step, the ALJ considers if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step asks if the claimant has a severe impairment (i.e. an impairment that has a significant effect on the claimant's ability to function); if the claimant has a severe impairment, the third step asks if the claimant has a condition which meets or equals the conditions outlined in the Listings of Impairments in Appendix 1 of the Regulations (the "Listings"); if the claimant does not have such a condition, the fourth step asks if the claimant is capable of performing his past relevant work, if the claimant is not capable of performing his past relevant work, the fifth step asks if the claimant is capable of performing other work which exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-404.1520(f)(1). Lastly, if the ALJ finds that the claimant is "disabled or not disabled at any point in the review," the inquiry ends. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).

In the present case, the ALJ concluded at step two that the residual functional limitations related to Mr. Strand's right wrist fracture, as well as his Dupuytren's syndrome, are severe impairments. At step three the ALJ found that Mr. Strand's impairments, while severe, are not severe enough to meet or equal the conditions in the Listing of Impairments. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE") the ALJ found at step four that Mr. Strand is incapable of performing his past relevant work as the owner/operator of a shoe store. The VE also testified, however, that Mr. Strand has transferable skills that would transfer to other semi-skilled retail sales clerk jobs that he can perform primarily in a standing position. Based on this testimony, the ALJ found at step five that Mr. Strand could perform a significant range of light work available in the national economy and therefore he is not disabled.

In his motion for summary judgment Mr. Strand notes that the ALJ found he had severe impairments and also found that he could not perform his past relevant work. He appears to take issue with the ALJ's finding that "he has transferable skills from skilled work previously performed." ALJ Decision, Finding No. 1, Transcript ("TR") 21. Mr. Strand contends that the ALJ's finding is refuted by the VE's hearing testimony. He ...


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