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Vo v. Astrue

March 18, 2009

BE V. VO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer T. Lum United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER PROCEEDINGS

On June 2, 2008, Be V. Vo ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Social Security Administration's denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. On June 20, 2008, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("defendant"), filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum. On June 25, 2008, plaintiff filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Jennifer T. Lum. Thereafter, on December 2, 2008, defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint. On March 10, 2009, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation.

The matter is now ready for decision.

BACKGROUND

On February 20, 2003, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. (Administrative Record ["AR"] at 75-78). In his application, plaintiff claimed that, beginning on August 1, 1999, back pain, memory problems, and headaches prevented him from working. (AR at 75). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for benefits both initially and upon reconsideration. (AR at 44-49, 53-56). On June 21, 2004, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Daniel E. Loughry conducted a hearing in Glendale, California. (AR at 27-43). Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with counsel and testified. (AR at 31-39). Rheta King, a vocational expert, appeared and testified. (AR at 39-42). An interpreter was also present at the hearing. (AR at 27).

On July 30, 2004, ALJ Loughry issued his decision denying benefits. (AR at 19-25). In his decision, ALJ Loughry concluded that plaintiff suffered from severe disorders of the back. (AR at 20). ALJ Loughry also noted that claimant suffered from a depressive disorder, not otherwise specified, which was medically determinable but not severe. (Id.). ALJ Loughry, however determined that plaintiff's impairment did not meet or equal any of the criteria contained in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.). ALJ Loughry also found that, based upon plaintiff's residual functional capacity, plaintiff retained the capacity to perform his past relevant work as a hand packager. (AR at 24). Ultimately, ALJ Loughry found that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. (Id.). The Appeals Council affirmed ALJ Loughry's decision. (AR at 9-11).

Thereafter, plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court. On February 22, 2006, the district court issued an order remanding the matter for further proceedings. (AR at 347). The Court instructed the ALJ that on remand, he or she should determine the appropriate amount of weight to give to the opinion of Richard A. Hochberg, M.D., plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, and then consider whether plaintiff is still able to perform his past relevant work. If plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work, the Court instructed the ALJ to determine whether other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that accommodates plaintiff's residual functional capacity and vocational factors. (Id.).

On December 11, 2007, ALJ David J. Agatstein held a supplemental hearing in Pasadena, California. (AR at 498-534). Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with counsel and testified with the assistance of a Vietnamese language interpreter. (AR at 503-24). Glenn E. Griffin, Ph.D., a medical expert, and Martin Brodwin, Ph.D., a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. (AR at 524-33). On January 17, 2007, ALJ Agatstein issued a decision denying benefits to plaintiff. (AR at 281-92). ALJ Agatstein determined that plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairments: chronic low back pain with mild degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine and hypertension, controlled with medications. (AR at 284). ALJ Agatstein also noted that plaintiff had a medically determinable depressive disorder that was not severe. (Id.). ALJ Agatstein found that plaintiff's conditions did not meet or equal any of the impairments contained in the Listing of Impairments (see 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1). (AR at 285). ALJ Agatstein determined that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform work at the medium level of exertion, and was capable of performing his past relevant work as a hand packager. (AR at 285-91). Thus, ALJ Agatstein concluded that plaintiff was not disabled from February 20, 2003, the date plaintiff filed his application, through February 27, 2005.*fn1 (AR at 292; see AR at 282).

Thereafter, plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court.

PLAINTIFF'S CONTENTION

Plaintiff contends that ALJ Agatstein failed to properly evaluate the medical evidence in the record.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ'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 (1971); Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996).

Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Morgan v. Comm'r, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, ...


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