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Richardson v. Astrue

July 24, 2009

MARY A. RICHARDSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on December 20, 2007, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). On February 14, 2008, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on September 16, 2008, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, in the alternative, remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings; and defendant seeks an order affirming the Commissioner's decision. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On June 1, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging an inability to work since July 1, 2004, due to diabetes, fatigue, and hepatitis C. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 12, 35, 80, 91, 102.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a retail cashier. (A.R. 12, 81, 94, 445.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially (A.R. 35-39), and upon reconsideration (A.R. 41-45). On June 13, 2006, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Joseph D. Schloss ("ALJ"). (A.R. 424-47.) On August 16, 2006, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim, and the Appeals Counsel subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 4-6, 12-17.)

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

In his written decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2004, the onset of her alleged disability. (A.R. 16.) The ALJ found that plaintiff suffers from "severe" insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, hepatitis C, and moderate obesity, but she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in or medically equal to one of the impairments listed in appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4. (Id.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform a wide range of light work. (A.R. 16.) Based on the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment and testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a retail cashier. (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not under a disability at any time through the date of his decision. (Id.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those "'reasonably drawn from the record'" will suffice. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006)(quoting Stout v. Comm'r, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055-56 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Burch, 400 F.3d at 679.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff alleges the following three issues: (1) whether the ALJ properly considered lay witness evidence; (2) whether the ALJ posed a complete hypothetical question to the vocational expert; (3) whether the ALJ accurately represented the ...


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