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Lugo v. Astrue

July 14, 2009

ELIZABETH R. LUGO, 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

Plaintiff Elizabeth R. Lugo ("Lugo") filed a Complaint on June 27, 2008. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties filed Consents to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on July 22 and 31, 2008. (Dkt. Nos. 8-9.) The parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") on March 10, 2009, that addresses the disputed issues in the case. The Commissioner filed the certified administrative record ("AR"). The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Lugo began receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits when she was seven years old based on diabetes mellitus. A.R. 86. When Lugo turned 18, the Commissioner determined that Lugo did not meet the adult criteria for disability. Id. Lugo filed a request for hearing. A.R. 104. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on October 22, 2007. A.R. 312-37. On November 6, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 15-28. Lugo requested review of the ALJ's decision. A.R. 12. On April 25, 2008, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. A.R. 5-9.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or 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).

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

III. EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

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. ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Lugo has the following medical impairments that, in combination, are severe: "insulin dependent diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy," "a history of recurrent anemia of uncertain cause," "hyperlipidemia," and "disc bulges at L3-4 through L5-S1." A.R. 20.

Lugo has "the residual functional capacity to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for only two out of eight hours, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant cannot work at unprotected heights or around hazardous machinery. She can occasionally push and pull with her lower extremities. Overall, her attention, concentration, and pace are reduced by 10 percent." A.R. 22. The ALJ found that Lugo has no past relevant work, but is "able to perform a significant number of jobs ...


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