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Stuter v. Astrue

August 31, 2009

LINDA D. STUTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

This social security action was submitted to the court, without oral argument, for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and/or remand and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is granted, the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this order.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On July 19, 2004, plaintiff applied for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act) and for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act, alleging disability since January 29, 2004, due to pain in her tailbone, back, hips, legs, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands; asthma; high blood pressure; gall bladder problems; and depression. (Transcript (Tr.) at 147-51, 201.) The application was denied initially on December 7, 2004, and upon reconsideration on July 29, 2005. (Tr. at 109-23.) Pursuant to plaintiff's timely request, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on April 19, 2007. (Tr. at 28-79, 128-29.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with her attorney and testified; plaintiff's husband and a vocational expert also testified. (Tr. at 28-29.) In a decision dated June 27, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled at any time from January 29, 2004 through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 15-24.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2010 (Exhibit 3D).

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) since January 29, 2004, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1520(b) and 404.1571 et seq.).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease (Exhibits 1F, 2F, 5F, 6F); bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, mild (Exhibits 5F, 6F); obesity (Exhibit 6F); and depression (Exhibits 4F, 18F) (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) for light work with a sit/stand option; able to use the bilateral upper extremities to do frequent reaching, handling, fingering or gripping; no continuous repetitive use of the hands; occasional climbing of ramps/stairs, no climbing of ladders/ropes/scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching or crawling; and mild limitation in concentration, persistence and pace (Exhibits 5F, 7F, 13F, 15F, 21F).

6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).

7. The claimant was born on October 22, 1953 and was 50 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).

8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).

9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled," whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).

10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1560(c) and 404.1566).

11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 29, 2004 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

(Tr. at 17-23.)

On November 23, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 2-4, 9-10.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on January 17, 2008.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence and the proper legal standards were applied. Schneider v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 2000); Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. See Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to ...


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