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Henderson v. Astrue

September 23, 2009

MELESSA HENDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen J. Hillman United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on January 8, 2009, appealing a final administrative decision denying Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Both parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, after which Defendant filed an Answer on April 14, 2009. The matter has been taken under submission.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits on May 27, 2005, asserting a disability onset date of January 1, 2004 due to a learning disability, arthritis, carpal tunnel of the right hand, and mental health disorders. (A.R. 93-97, 111, 141-142). The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied her claim on October 4, 2005. (A.R. 74). Plaintiff filed for reconsideration and was denied on February 17, 2006. (A.R. 63, 72). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a request for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

Following the hearing on August 12, 2008, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not and had not been disabled during the period alleged through the date of the decision. (A.R. 11, 13-14). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from various mental disorders, but that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the "listed impairments". Furthermore, the ALJ found that: (1) Plaintiff could perform work at any exertion level; (2) Plaintiff's mental impairments limit her to non-public, simple, repetitive tasks in an environment with no exposure to illegal or legally prescribed drugs; and (3) Plaintiff cannot perform safety operations or be responsible for the safety of others. (A.R. 14-18). Additionally, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had limited education and is able to communicate in English. (A.R. 21). Finally, in the course of his decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's testimony was less than fully credible based on contradictory evidence in the medical record and credibility factors relevant to her claim. (A.R. 18-20).

Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ decision from the Appeals Council and was denied on October 28, 2008. (A.R. 4). This action followed.

III. CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

Plaintiff contends that: (1) the ALJ failed to properly consider the statements of the SSA claims representative regarding Plaintiff's ability to read and write, (2) the ALJ failed to properly consider lay witness statements made by Plaintiff's sister about Plaintiff's ability to read and write, (3) the ALJ failed to fully and fairly develop the record in regards to the Plaintiff's ability to read and write, and (4) that the ALJ erred in finding that the Plaintiff could perform other work.

Defendant asserts that the ALJ properly considered statements made by the SSA claims representative as part of the overall record and properly discounted lay witness statements made by Plaintiff's sister by providing germane reasons. Also, Defendant contends that the record was adequate to adjudicate Plaintiff's application and the ALJ did not have a duty to seek additional evidence regarding Plaintiff's ability to read and write. Finally, Defendant maintains that the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff could read and write and could perform other work in the national economy existing in sufficient numbers.

IV. DISCUSSION

Under 42. U.S.C. §405(g), this court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine if: (1) the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the ALJ used proper legal standards. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841 (8th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla," Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971), but less than a preponderance." Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). This court cannot disturb the ALJ's findings if those findings are supported by substantial evidence, even though other evidence may exist which supports Plaintiff's claim. See Torske v. Richardson, 484 F.2d 59, 60 (9th Cir. 1973), cert. denied, Torske v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 933 (1974); Harvey v. Richardson, 451 F.2d 589, 590 (9th Cir. 1971).

It is the duty of this court to review the record as a whole and to consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 529-30 (9th Cir. 1986). The court is required to uphold the decision of the ALJ where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984). The court has the authority to affirm, modify, or reverse the ALJ's decision "with or without remanding the cause for rehearing." 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Remand is appropriate where additional proceedings would remedy defects in the ALJ's decision. McAllister v. Sullivan, 888 F.2d 599, 603 (9th Cir. 1989).

The ALJ follows a five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether a person is disabled. First, it is determined whether the person is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, disability benefits are denied. Second, if the person is not so engaged, it is determined whether the person has a medically severe impairment or combination of impairments. If the person does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, benefits are denied. Third, if the person has a severe impairment, it is determined whether the impairment meets or equals one of a number of "listed impairments." If the impairment meets or equals a "listed impairment," the person is conclusively presumed to be disabled. Fourth, if the impairment does not meet or equal the "listed impairments," it is determined whether the impairment prevents the person from performing past relevant work. If the person can perform past relevant work, benefits are denied. Fifth, if the person cannot perform past relevant work, the ...


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