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Habibi v. Commissioner of the Social Security Administration

September 22, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge


(Doc. Nos. 13, 16 & 20.)

Presently before the Court is Nancy Habibi's ("plaintiff") complaint pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act requesting judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("defendant") regarding the denial of plaintiff's claim for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits. (Doc. 1.) In plaintiff's motion for summary judgment filed on December 17, 2008, plaintiff contends that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in (1) determining she could return to her past relevant work and (2) rejecting plaintiff's treating physicians' opinions of her limitation. (Doc. No. 13.) Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on February 10, 2009. (Doc. No. 16.)

The matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Louisa S. Porter, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 72.1(d). On August 7, 2009, Magistrate Judge Porter issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), concluding that this Court should deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grant defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 20.) Plaintiff timely filed objections to the R&R on September 1, 2009. (Doc. No. 21.)

Having considered the R&R and plaintiff's objections, this Court (1) overrules plaintiff's objections; (2) adopts Magistrate Judge Porter's Recommendation and Report; (3) denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment; and (4) grants defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment.


Magistrate Judge Porter's R&R contains a detailed factual and procedural background, citing the Administrative Record in the case. Plaintiff makes no specific objection to these summaries. Thus, this Order incorporates by reference the facts and procedural history as set forth in the R&R.


A. Review of the Report and Recommendation

Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) set forth the duties of the district court in connection with a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. "The district court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report... to which objection is made," and "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the finding or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c); see also United States v. Remsing, 874 F.2d 614, 617 (9th Cir. 1989); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980).

B. Review of Denial of Disability Claim

In order to qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, applicants must show that they are "disabled" as defined by the statute. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), (2)(A) (West Supp. 2008). To prove a disability, the applicant must show two things: (1) the applicant suffers from a medically determinable impairment that can be expected to last for a continuous period of twelve months or more, or would result in death; and (2) the impairment renders applicant incapable of performing the work they previously performed or any other substantially gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Id. To guide a determination of whether a claimant meets this showing, the Social Security regulations outline a five-step process in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The applicant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps and must prove that: (1) plaintiff is not presently working in a substantially gainful activity; (2) plaintiff's impairment is severe; (3) the impairment meets or is equal to one of the specific impairments in the regulations; and (4) plaintiff is not able to do any relevant work that he or she has done in the past. See Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098-99 (9th Cir. 1999). If the plaintiff establishes those four steps, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove the fifth step, which is that the claimant is able to do other work and therefore not "disabled." Id.

An applicant whose claims have been denied may seek judicial review of the Commissioner's final agency decision pursuant to sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act. In reviewing the decision, the district court reverses the Commissioner only if "it is based upon legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support [the ALJ's] conclusion[,]" considering the record as a whole. Webb v. Barnhart, 433 F.3d 683, 686 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). There must be "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance[]" of evidence. Tidwell, 161 F.2d at 601.

"'The court must consider both evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion....'" Frost v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 359, 366-67 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985)). If the evidence reasonably supports the administration's determination, then the court may not substitute its own judgment. Flatten v. Sec'y Health & Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court must uphold the denial of benefits if the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decisions. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). Finally, the Court will not reverse an ALJ's decisions if its finds harmless error, which exists when it is clear from the record that "the ALJ's error was ...

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