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Vasquez v. Astrue

October 30, 2009

FREDDIE VASQUEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Oswald Parada United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION; ORDER

The Court*fn1 now rules as follows with respect to the disputed issues listed in the Joint Stipulation ("JS").*fn2

I. DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the disputed issues which Plaintiff raises as the grounds for reversal and/or remand are as follows:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly evaluated Plaintiff's cognitive impairment;

2. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility;*fn3 and

3. Whether the ALJ developed the record regarding the medical necessity of Plaintiff's assistive device for ambulation.

(JS at 3, 14-17.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" but less than a preponderance. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 575-76 (9th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (citation omitted). The Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 529-30 (9th Cir. 1986). Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1984).

III. DISCUSSION

A. The ALJ Properly Assessed Plaintiff's Cognitive Impairments

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in his assessment of Plaintiff's cognitive impairments. (JS at 3-7.) Given Dr. Kim Coldman's test results regarding Plaintiff's intellectual functioning, Plaintiff argues the ALJ had no basis to conclude in the residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment that Plaintiff could still perform simple, routine tasks. (Id. at 3-6) Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ misread the objective evidence and improperly relied on the findings of the consultative examiners, Dr. Coldman and Dr. Henry Amado. (Id. at 3-7) Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ failed to fulfill his burden of identifying occupations within Plaintiff's functional capacity at step five of the sequential evaluation procedure. (Id. at 6-7.) Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the occupations identified by the vocational expert ("VE") and relied upon by the ALJ did not give adequate consideration to Plaintiff's borderline intellectual functioning. (Id.)*fn4*fn5

1. The ALJ Properly Limited Plaintiff to Simple, Routine Tasks

Given that Plaintiff did not set forth any evidence of mental health treatment, the state agency referred Plaintiff to Dr. Coldman for a psychological evaluation, and to Dr. Amado for a mental RFC assessment. (AR at 20-22, 146-50, 179-82.) On May 25, 2005, after conducting three tests to determine Plaintiff's cognitive functioning, Dr. Coldman cautioned that Plaintiff's "test results should be interpreted with caution. [Plaintiff] appeared to make a generally poor effort on the tasks presented to him." (Id. at 181.) Based on the psychological evaluation, Dr. Coldman found that Plaintiff had borderline intellectual functioning and concluded:

[Plaintiff's] ability to understand, carry out and remember simple instructions is not impaired. His ability to understand, carry out and remember detailed instructions and complex tasks is moderately impaired due to limits in his cognitive functioning.... The above-mentioned limitations should be interpreted with caution. [Plaintiff's] obtained scores are inconsistent with adaptative functioning. He reported ...


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