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Comstock v. Astrue

April 21, 2009

STEVE W. COMSTOCK, 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

Steve Comstock filed this action on May 15, 2008. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on May 22 and August 4, 2008. (Dkt. Nos. 6, 7.) On January 14, 2009, 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 matter is remanded for an award of benefits.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 23, 2005, Comstock filed an application for disability insurance benefits. A.R. 63-67. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. A.R. 48-49. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on January 19, 2007, at which Comstock testified. A.R. 319-340. On November 5, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. A.R. 19-29. Comstock requested review. A.R. 16.

On April 22, 2008, the Appeals Council ("AC") issued a decision in which it (1) granted Comstock's request to change the alleged disability onset date from October 27, 2003, to November 2, 2004; (2) adopted the ALJ's "statements regarding the pertinent provisions of the social Security Act, Social Security Administration Regulations, Social Security Rulings and Acquiescence Rulings, the issues in the case, and the evidentiary facts, as applicable"; (3) did not adopt the ALJ's "findings or conclusions regarding whether the claimant is disabled"; (4) found Comstock not to be disabled; and (5) designated its decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. A.R. 6-13.

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 ...


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