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Moua v. Astrue

April 14, 2009

MAI MOUA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows U.S. Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, the Commissioner's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and the Clerk is directed to enter judgment for the Commissioner. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, born April 12, 1961, applied on May 16, 2005 for disability benefits. (Tr. at 71.) Plaintiff alleged she was unable to work due to chronic headaches, stomach ulcer, depression, post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and anxiety. (Tr. at 46.)

In a decision dated April 5, 2007, ALJ Robert Tronvig, Jr. determined plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ made the following findings:*fn1

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 10, 2004, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq.).

2. The claimant has the following severe combination of impairments: chronic back and left shoulder strain, mild degenerative joint disease of the left wrist, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, GERD, and mild asthma (20 CFR 416.920(c)).

3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).

4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to work with lifting and carrying 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, standing and walking six hours in an eight-hour day, sitting six hours in an eight hour day, with a sit-stand option, no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; and occasional manipulative limitations; avoid concentrated exposures to hazards and fumes, and simple and some detailed tasks with limited social contact.

5. The claimant has past relevant work as a caregiver (20 CFR 416.965).

6. The claimant was born on April 12, 1961 and is 45 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 45-49 (20 CFR 416.963).

7. The claimant is illiterate and is not able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964.)

8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue (20 CFR 416.968).

9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.960(c) and 416.966).

10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since April 25, 2005, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(Tr. at 17-24.)

ISSUES PRESENTED

Plaintiff has raised the following issues: A. Whether the ALJ Failed to Make Adequate Findings Regarding the Nature and Severity of Plaintiff's Mental Impairments; B. Whether Substantial Evidence Does Not Support the ALJ's Findings That Plaintiff's Allegations of Subjective Complaints and Limitations Were Not Credible; C. Whether Substantial Evidence Does Not Support the ALJ's Findings that Plaintiff has the Residual Functional Capacity to Perform Light Work and Work Described by the Vocational Expert; D. Whether the ALJ Failed to Provide Specific and Legitimate Reasons to Reject the Treating Psychiatrist's Assessment of Functional Capacity; and E. Whether the Vocational Expert's Testimony Fails to Constitute Substantial Evidence that Plaintiff Can Work as a Sorter of Agricultural Products, Assembler at a Bench, and Sewing Machine Operator.

LEGAL STANDARDS

The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir.1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008). ANALYSIS

A. Whether the ALJ Failed to Make Adequate Findings Regarding the Nature and Severity of Plaintiff's Mental Impairments

Plaintiff makes several allegations in this section, including that the ALJ failed to mention certain medical notations, such as Dr. Azevedo's statement that plaintiff was cooperative during the examination, her responses were open and spontaneous, her psychomotor activity was highly retarded, and she had a blunted affect and limited range of emotions.

Although the ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence, the record does need to demonstrate that he considered all of the evidence. Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1009-10 (10th Cir. 1996) (finding ALJ's summary conclusion that appellant's impairments did not meet or equal any Listed Impairment was a bare conclusion beyond meaningful judicial review). Furthermore, an ALJ may properly rely upon only selected portions of a medical opinion while rejecting other parts. See, e.g., Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 753 (9th Cir. 1989) (ALJ's supported reliance on selected portions of conflicting opinion constitutes substantial evidence). However, such selective reliance must be ...


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