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Howell v. Astrue

August 24, 2009

JOY A. HOWELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Oswald Parada United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION; ORDER

The Court*fn1 now rules as follows with respect to the two disputed issues listed in the Joint Stipulation filed on November 10, 2008.*fn2

I. DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the disputed issues which Plaintiff raises as the grounds for reversal and/or remand are as follows:

1. Whether the ALJ properly determined that Plaintiff had no severe mental impairment; and

2. Whether the ALJ properly restated and weighed the physical function opinions of treating physicians Eilat, Nathan, and Salick.

(JS at 19.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" but less than a preponderance. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 575-76 (9th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (citation omitted). The Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 529-30 (9th Cir. 1986). Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1984).

III. DISCUSSION

A. The ALJ Properly Determined That Plaintiff Had No Severe Mental Impairment

Plaintiff contends that the extensive evidence of mental disability presented was too significant for the ALJ to dismiss and that the stated reasons for determining she had no severe mental impairment were legally insufficient. (JS at 20.) This Court disagrees.

1. Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's Determination

Title 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 defines a "non-severe impairment" as one which does not significantly -- i.e., more than minimally -- limit one's physical or mental capacity to perform basic work-related functions. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 154, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed. 2d 119 (1987). Examples of such functions would be the ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, push, pull, reach, or handle; see, hear, and speak; understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; use judgment; respond appropriately to supervisors, co-workers, and usual work situations; and deal with changes in a work setting. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521. This analysis is "'a de minimis screening device to dispose of groundless claims.'" Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 153-54)). A finding of a non-severe impairment is appropriate only when the "medical evidence establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work . . ...


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