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Plaza-Gutierrez v. Astrue

September 30, 2009

EVA TRINI PLAZA-GUTIERREZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. Woehrle United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of disability benefits. The court finds that judgment should be granted in favor of defendant, affirming the Commissioner's decision.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Eva Trini Plaza-Gutierrez was born on August 5, 1958, and was forty-nine years old at the time of her administrative hearing. [Administrative Record ("AR") 18, 271.] She has eleven years of education and past relevant work experience as a packer, home care provider, deli cashier and machine operator. [AR 18, 115.] Plaintiff alleges disability on the basis of fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel, arthritis, back problems, high blood pressure, severe allergies, bone spurs in her right heel, left ankle pain and memory loss. [AR 32.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff's complaint was lodged on April 30, 2008, and filed on May 9, 2008. On November 17, 2008, defendant filed an answer and Plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On January 21, 2009, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act on October 28, 2005, alleging disability since January 31, 1992.*fn1 [AR 10.] After the application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on October 29, 2007, before ALJ F. Keith Varni. [AR 271.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from plaintiff and her daughter, Isabel Refermosa.

[AR 272.] The ALJ denied benefits in a decision dated December 3, 2007. [AR 10-19.] When the Appeals Council denied review on April 7, 2008, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 2-4.]

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's (or ALJ's) findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. However, if the court determines that a finding is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the finding and set aside the decision to deny benefits. See Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001); Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995)(per curiam). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. It is "relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must review the administrative record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-721; see also Osenbrock, 240 F.3d at 1162.

V. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

To be eligible for disability benefits a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable impairment which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity and which is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098; Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721; 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

Disability claims are evaluated using a five-step test:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. ...


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