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Reese v. Astrue

March 11, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Oswald Parada United States Magistrate Judge


The Court*fn1 now rules as follows with respect to the two disputed issues listed in the Joint Stipulation ("JS").*fn2


As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the disputed issues which Plaintiff raises as the grounds for reversal and/or remand are as follows:

1. Whether the ALJ erred when he failed to find Plaintiff had a severe impairment;

2. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. (JS at 6.)


Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" but less than a preponderance. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 575-76 (9th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (citation omitted). The Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 529-30 (9th Cir. 1986). Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1984).


A. Background

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on March 4, 2004, alleging an onset of disability from February 2, 2001. She claims she suffers from the severe impairments of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, among other things. The ALJ denied the applications, determining that Plaintiff had not established a severe impairment as defined by the regulations on or before her date last insured of September 30, 2001. (AR at 15, 16.) Therefore, the ALJ concluded his sequential analysis at Step Two.

B. Substantial Evidence Does Not Support the ALJ's Findings That Plaintiff's Impairments Were Not Severe

Title 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 defines a "non-severe impairment" as one which does not significantly -- i.e., more than minimally -- limit one's physical or mental capacity to perform basic work-related functions. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 154, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed. 2d 119 (1987). Examples of such functions would be the ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, push, pull, reach, or handle; see, hear, and speak; understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; use judgment; respond appropriately to supervisors, co-workers, and usual work situations; and deal with changes in a work setting. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521. This analysis is "'a de minimis screening device to dispose of groundless claims.'" Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Bowen, 482 U.S. at 153-54)). A finding of a non-severe impairment is appropriate only when the "medical evidence establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work . . . " Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 85-28; see also Bowen, 482 U.S. at 154 n.12. This assessment, therefore, is independent of considerations of age, education, and vocational background. Bowen, 482 U.S. at 151-54; Corrao v. Shalala, 20 F.3d 943, 949 (9th Cir. 1994).

In this case, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments to be non-severe: There is little in the way of medical evidence dating back from her date last insured. The evidence that does exist for the relevant period in question does not contain clinical and diagnostic findings supporting disabling limitations. . . . The medical records prior to the claimant's date last insured primarily consist of numerous blood and other laboratory tests taken of no apparent clinical significance. . . . Diagnoses of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, are repeated throughout the record, however, there is little in the way of objective findings to support these diagnoses. (AR at 15.) With respect to Plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ also noted that although Plaintiff complained of "significant cognitive complaints, she had not received formal mental health treatment." (Id.) "Various reports have been prepared evaluating the claimant's mental and ...

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