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Williams v. Astrue

September 15, 2009


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


Plaintiff filed a Complaint on June 30, 2008, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for a period of disability ("POD") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on March 9, 2009, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, in the alternative, remanding the matter for a new administrative hearing; and defendant seeks an order affirming the Commissioner's decision. On September 3, 2009, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.


On June 7, 2005, plaintiff protectively filed an application for a POD and DIB. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 39-41.) Plaintiff alleges an inability to work since December 2, 2004, due to a heart attack, triple bypass surgery, and stress. (A.R. 31, 61.) She has past relevant work experience as an associate assembler.*fn1 (A.R. 62, 69.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially. (A.R. 31-36.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed a written request for hearing, and on April 4, 2007, plaintiff, who was accompanied by a non-attorney representative, testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge William C. Thompson, Jr. ("ALJ"). (A.R. 26, 214-32.) On June 12, 2007, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim, and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 3-5, 10-16.)


In his written decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 2, 2004, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date, and she meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010. (A.R. 12.) The ALJ further found that plaintiff suffers from the "severe" impairments of status post-myocardial infarction and coronary artery bypass, but she does not have any impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4. (Id.)

In reliance on the opinions of the consultative examiner and State Agency medical consultant, the ALJ rejected the opinion of plaintiff's treating cardiologist, Vernon Hattori, M.D. (A.R. 15.) Further, the ALJ found that plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her subjective pain symptoms were not entirely credible. (A.R. 14.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light exertional activity. (A.R. 12.) Based on this residual functional capacity assessment and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as an assembler. (A.R. 15.)

Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 2, 2004, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 15.)


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.'" ...

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