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Huerta v. Astrue

July 22, 2009

IMELDA HUERTA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosalyn M. Chapman United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Imelda Huerta filed a complaint on December 21, 2007, seeking review of the decision denying her application for disability benefits. On June 10, 2008, the Commissioner answered the complaint, and the parties filed a joint stipulation on July 14, 2008.

BACKGROUND

I.

On May 5, 2004 (protective filing date), plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423, claiming an inability to work since January 10, 2002, due to neck, shoulder and back pain. Certified Administrative Record ("A.R.") 74-77, 88, 91. The plaintiff's application was initially denied on August 16, 2004, and was denied again on January 14, 2005, following reconsideration. A.R. 34-44. The plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge James S. Carletti ("the ALJ") on August 16, 2007. A.R. 45, 469-95. On September 12, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff is not disabled. A.R. 9-18. The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, which denied review on November 16, 2007. A.R. 4-8.

II.

The plaintiff, who was born in Mexico on May 1, 1957, is currently 52 years old. A.R. 75, 79-79A. She has a third-grade education, and previously worked as a faucet painter, a machine presser, an assembler and a packager. A.R. 89, 91-92, 95, 472-73, 488-92.

The ALJ summarized plaintiff's medical records, as follows:

The [plaintiff] suffered a neck injury in January 2002 and manifested . . . neck and upper extremity pain. MRI scan in March 2002 showed multiple level 2 mm. disc protrusions. In April 2002, consulting neurologist I. Yusufaly, M.D., diagnosed cumulative trauma injury to the cervical spine. In May 2002, board-certified orthopedic surgeon James Matiko, M.D., diagnosed [plaintiff] with mild cervical sprain/strain in his permanent and stationary report. EMG in 2002 showed left median neuropathy and left ulnar neuropathy. Dr. Yusufaly interpreted this EMG as showing no evidence of cervical radiculopathy. In 2002, [plaintiff] was diagnosed by pain management specialist Eduardo Anguizola, M.D., with cervical disc disease with cervical facet arthropathy. [Qualified Medical Examiner] Gregory Heinen, M.D.[,] diagnosed cervical spine strain with radiation into the bilateral trapezius. In September 2002, [plaintiff] was diagnosed with herniated discs at C4-5 and C5-6 by orthopedic surgeon Allen Fonseca, M.D. He confirmed this diagnosis in May 2003 along with chronic cervical spine strain and sprain. [¶] Progress notes from attending physician Julio Westerbrand, M.D., show continued pain, bilateral trapezial spasm and limited range of motion. [¶] Because conservative therapy was unsuccessful, [plaintiff] underwent fusion surgery of the cervical spine in June 2003. She underwent physical therapy but . . . still had neck pain and stiffness as well as bilateral trapezial spasm with pain and limited range of motion but no neurological deficit. Xray of the cervical spine in April 2007 showed moderate degenerative changes at C5-6 bilaterally.*fn1

A.R. 14-15 (citations omitted; footnote added).

DISCUSSION

III.

The Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), has the authority to review the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff disability benefits to determine if his findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner used the proper legal standards in reaching his decision. Bruce v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 1113, 1115 (9th Cir. 2009); Bray v. Astrue, 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009).

The claimant is "disabled" for the purpose of receiving benefits under the Act if she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to an impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). "The claimant bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability." Roberts v. Shalala, 66 F.3d 179, 182 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1122 (1996); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1289 (9th Cir. 1996). Here, plaintiff must prove she was either permanently disabled or subject to a condition which became so ...


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