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Hernandez v. Astrue

April 16, 2009

CHRISTINA HERNANDEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alicia G. Rosenberg United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Christina Hernandez filed this action on March 20, 2008. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on April 3 and September 30, 2008. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 10.) The Commissioner filed the certified administrative record. (Dkt. No. 14.) On December 4, 2008, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 2 and 10, 2004, Hernandez filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. A.R. 20. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. A.R. 26-29. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on February 20, 2007, at which Hernandez, a medical expert, and a vocational expert testified. A.R. 429-456. On March 22, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. A.R. 17-24. Hernandez requested review. A.R. 15. On November 23, 2007, the Appeals Council denied Hernandez's request for review. A.R. 9-12.

This lawsuit followed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews 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).

"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. In 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. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such benefits, "only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22, 124 S.Ct. 376, 157 L.Ed. 2d 333 (2003).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Hernandez has the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine, status-post cervical spine fusion surgery, status-post cerebrovascular accident and history of alcohol abuse." A.R. 23. Hernandez has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform the full range of sedentary exertion." Id. The ALJ found that Hernandez could perform her past relevant work as a receptionist. A.R. 23-24.

C. ALJ's Assessment of Hernandez's Credibility

"To determine whether a claimant's testimony regarding subjective pain or symptoms is credible, an ALJ must engage in a two-step analysis." Lingenfelter v. ...


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