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Heller v. Astrue

July 14, 2009

EDWARD HELLER, 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

Edward Heller filed this action on July 22, 2008. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on October 31 and November 10, 2008. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.) On April 6, 2009, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("J.S.") that addressed a disputed issue. The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the Court remands this matter to the Commissioner for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 12, 2006, Heller filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits alleging a disability onset date of March 1, 2000. A.R. 10. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on January 14, 2008, at which Heller and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. A.R. 22-35. On January 24, 2008, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. A.R. 10-13. On May 27, 2008, the Appeals Council denied Heller's request for review. A.R. 1-4.

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 is eligible for 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

Heller has a severe impairment of severe, bilateral Dupuytren's contracture.*fn1 A.R. 12. Heller has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform light work with occasional handling and fingering of the upper extremity." Id. Heller is unable to perform his past relevant work. Id. However, there are ...


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