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Ortiz v. Astrue

May 27, 2009

GUADALUPE ORTIZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT (DOC. 2)

ORDER DIRECTING THE CLERK TO ENTER JUDGMENT FOR DEFENDANT MICHAEL J. ASTRUE AND AGAINST PLAINTIFF GUADALUPE ORTIZ

Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis and with counsel against the Commissioner of Social Security. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner denying an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings in this matter, including ordering the entry of final judgment.*fn1 The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which have been submitted without oral argument to the Honorable Sandra M. Snyder, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. Procedural History

On September 14, 2004, Plaintiff, who was born on January 6, 1937, applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), alleging disability due to anemia, diabetes, bleeding from the kidneys, and surgery on the wrists since December 20, 2000. (A.R. 19, 64, 81.) After Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing held before the Honorable Michael J. Haubner, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Social Security Administration (SSA), on September 6, 2006. (A.R. 25-28, 19, 448-75.) On October 18, 2006, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. (Id. at 19-24.) After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 28, 2008, Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action on April 29, 2008. (Id. at 5-7.) Briefing commenced on December 12, 2008, and was completed on March 26, 2009, with the filing of Plaintiff's reply.

II. Standard and Scope of Review

Congress has provided a limited scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits under the Act. In reviewing findings of fact with respect to such determinations, the Court must determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla," Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971), but less than a preponderance, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119, n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975). It is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion; it may not simply isolate a portion of evidence that supports the decision. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).

It is immaterial that the evidence would support a finding contrary to that reached by the Commissioner; the determination of the Commissioner as to a factual matter will stand if supported by substantial evidence because it is the Commissioner's job, and not the Court's, to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 (9th Cir. 1975).

In weighing the evidence and making findings, the Commissioner must apply the proper legal standards. Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988). This Court must review the whole record and uphold the Commissioner's determination that the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards, and if the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See, Sanchez v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d at 995. If the Court concludes that the ALJ did not use the proper legal standard, the matter will be remanded to permit application of the appropriate standard. Cooper v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 557, 561 (9th Cir. 1987).

III. Disability

A. Legal Standards

In order to qualify for benefits, a claimant must establish that she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant must demonstrate a physical or mental impairment of such severity that the claimant is not only unable to do the claimant's previous work, but cannot, considering age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. 1382c(a)(3)(B); Quang Van Han v. Bowen, 882 F.2d 1453, 1456 (9th Cir. 1989). The burden of establishing a disability is initially on the claimant, who must prove that the claimant is unable to return to his or her former type of work; the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to identify other jobs that the claimant is capable of performing considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, as well as her age, education and last fifteen years of work experience. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990).

The regulations provide that the ALJ must make specific sequential determinations in the process of evaluating a disability: 1) whether the applicant engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged date of the onset of the impairment, 2) whether solely on the basis of the medical evidence the claimed impairment is severe, that is, of a magnitude sufficient to limit significantly the individual's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities; 3) whether solely on the basis of medical evidence the impairment equals or exceeds in severity certain impairments described in Appendix I of the regulations; 4) whether the applicant has sufficient residual functional capacity, defined as what an individual can still do despite limitations, to perform the applicant's past work; and 5) whether on the basis of the applicant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the applicant can perform any other gainful and substantial work within the economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.

B. Findings

Here, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability since September 14, 2004, the date the application was filed. He found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of status post carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), degenerative joint disease of the right knee, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, peripheral neuropathy, and fibromyalgia. (A.R. 21.) Plaintiff's impairments did not singly or in combination meet or medically equal a listed impairment. Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to lift and/or carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty pounds frequently, stand and/or walk at least six hours and sit at least six hours in an eight-hour workday, and occasionally climb, crouch, and crawl. (A.R. 22.) Plaintiff ...


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