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Rabban v. Astrue

February 6, 2009

WESSAM E. RABBAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge United States District Court

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT & GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CROSS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

On October 29, 2007, Plaintiff Wessam Rabban ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act") requesting judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") regarding the denial of Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits. (Doc. No. 1, Compl.) On July 29, 2008, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment regarding his 205(g) claim. (Doc. No. 13.) On September 8, 2008, Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and opposition to Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 16, 17.) Plaintiff did not file a reply or opposition to Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.

The Court concludes that this matter is appropriate for resolution without oral argument and submits the motion on the papers under local rule 7.1(d)(1). For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grants Defendant's cross- motion for summary judgment.

Background

Plaintiff filed an initial application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits on September 15, 2005. (Tr. 83--93.) Plaintiff was denied initially and upon reconsideration by the Social Security Administration ("Administration"). (Id. 48, 56.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, and on January 16, 2007, appeared and testified before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Id. 62, 22--43.)

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was thirty-four years old and completed three years of education beyond high school. (Id. 25--26.) Plaintiff had past relevant work experience as a liquor store cashier and stock clerk. (Id. 26--27, 40.) Plaintiff claimed he became unable to work on June 18, 2005, due to depression, schizophrenic disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder. (Id. 26.)

In a decision dated March 24, 2007, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id. 13.) As part of his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 18, 2005, had severe impairments of depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia, but that Plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or equal an impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of the Regulation number 4, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. (Id. 15.) The ALJ also found, in light of the entire record, that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform work activity involving simple, repetitive tasks with no public contact, but is unable to perform any past relevant work experience as a cashier and a liquor store clerk. (Id. 16, 19.) The ALJ found that with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, such as small products assembler, Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") number 706.684-022, and garment folder, DOT number 789.687-066. (Id. 20.) Finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined by the Act, from June 18, 2005 through the date of his decision, March 24, 2007. (Id. 21.) The decision became final when the Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's findings by decision dated August 21, 2007. (Id. 5--7.)

Discussion

I. Legal Standards Regarding Review of Denial of Disability Claim

Section 205(g) of the Act allows unsuccessful applicants to seek judicial review of a final agency decision of the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Section 205(g) provides that a district court has the power to enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner, with or without remanding the case for rehearing. See id. The Commissioner's denial of benefits "will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Brawner v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 839 F.2d 432, 433 (9th Cir. 1988). "Evidence can be 'substantial' if it is more than a scintilla, even though less than a preponderance." Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1201 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions. See id. If the evidence can support an outcome for either the Commissioner or the claimant, a reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See id. Even if the reviewing court finds that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, however, the court must set aside the decision if the ALJ failed to apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and reaching his decision. See Benitez v. Califano, 573 F.2d 653, 655 (9th Cir. 1978).

Under the Act, in order to qualify for disability benefits, an applicant must demonstrate 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. See Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094,1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). "If a claimant meets both requirements, he or she is 'disabled.'" Id.

The Social Security Regulations set out a five-step sequential process for determining whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520). The Ninth Circuit has summarized this process:

The burden of proof is on the claimant as to steps one to four. As to step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner. 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. The five steps are: Step 1. Is the claimant presently working in a substantially gainful activity? If so, then the claimant is "not disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act and is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the claimant is not working in a substantially gainful activity, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step one and the evaluation proceeds to step two. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

Step 2. Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, then the claimant is "not disabled" and is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. If the claimant's impairment is severe, then the claimant's case cannot be resolved at step two and the ...


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