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Mansour v. Astrue

February 2, 2009

GAMALAT MANSOUR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Abrams United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed this action on July 18, 2007, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on July 31, 2007, and August 6, 2007. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on February 28, 2008, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on May 13, 1964. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 32, 82, 84.] She obtained a high school diploma in Egypt [AR at 35-36, 292], and has past relevant work experience as a secretary and a security guard. [AR at 90, 451-52.]

On November 20, 2000, plaintiff protectively filed her application for Supplemental Security Income payments,*fn1 alleging that she has been unable to work since September 1, 2000,*fn2 due to diabetes, high blood pressure, stress, shortness of breath, a "disabled" right hand, and swollen feet. [AR at 82-84, 89, 278-81.] After her application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 57-70.] A hearing was held on April 10, 2002, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified, through an interpreter, on her own behalf. [AR at 22-56.] A vocational expert and a medical expert also testified. [AR at 27-32, 50-55.] On April 23, 2002, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 8-18.]

Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's April 23, 2002, decision. [AR at 7, 19.] On November 27, 2002, the Appeals Council denied review [AR at 4-5], and plaintiff filed an action in District Court, in Case No. ED CV 03-22-PLA, challenging the Commissioner's decision.*fn3 On June 7, 2006, judgment was entered remanding the case for further proceedings pursuant to the parties' stipulation under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [AR at 258-62.] On September 6, 2006, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision of April 23, 2002, and remanded the case for further proceedings. [AR at 256-57.] The Appeals Council instructed the ALJ on remand to (1) update the record and reevaluate all of plaintiff's impairments; (2) evaluate plaintiff's mental impairment under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a; (3) consider plaintiff's earnings after her alleged onset date and make a determination as to whether they constituted substantial gainful activity; and (4) associate the claim for Title XVI benefits filed on January 27, 2003, with the November 20, 2000, claim, and issue a new decision on the associated claims. [AR at 256.] A new hearing was held before a different ALJ on March 2, 2007, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified, through an interpreter, on her own behalf. [AR at 446-56.] Plaintiff's daughter also testified. [AR at 453-55.] On April 11, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 231-42.] This action followed.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

In this context, the term "substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance -- it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. When determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257; Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1258.

IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

Persons are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995, as amended April 9, 1996). In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting her ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of non-disability is made and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing") set forth at 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient "residual functional capacity" to perform her past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that she is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a ...


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