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Olguin v. Astrue

December 2, 2009

EMILIA OLGUIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR PAYMENT OF BENEFITS

PROCEEDINGS

On October 28, 2008, Emilia Olguin ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Commissioner filed an Answer on February 9, 2009. On June 22, 2009, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS").

The matter is now ready for decision. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for an immediate award of benefits.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 50 year old female who has the following severe impairments: cubital tunnel syndrome, cervical spine musculoligamentous strain, and depressive disorder. (AR 16.) Plaintiff alleges an onset date of July 29, 2005. (AR 14.)

Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on November 20, 2006, and on reconsideration on March 20, 2007. (Id.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing on April 30, 2007. (Id.) She appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ on January 16, 2008, in Los Angeles, California. (Id.)

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 6, 2008. (AR 11-28.) The ALJ concluded that Claimant has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from July 29, 2005, through the date of this decision. (AR 14.)

The ALJ determined that Claimant suffers from the severe impairments of fibromyalgia, cubital tunnel syndrome, cervical spine musculoligamentous strain, and depressive disorder. (AR 16.) The ALJ also determined that Claimant is unable to perform her past relevant work but is capable of performing other work. (AR 26-28.)

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on August 12, 2008. (AR 1-4.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the disputed issues that Plaintiff is raising as grounds for reversal and remand are as follows:

1. Whether the ALJ erred in weighing the treating source evidence?

2. Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's subjective complaints?

3. Whether the ALJ erred in determining Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC")?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ'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." Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotations and citations omitted). This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

DISCUSSION

The Court concludes that the ALJ's determination that Claimant is not disabled is unsupported by substantial evidence. The ALJ's rejection of the fibromyalgia RFC of rheumatologist Dr. Salick was not supported by clear and convincing or specific and legitimate reasons based on substantial evidence. An impartial vocational expert concluded that Plaintiff was unable to work based on the limitations that Dr. Salick specified in his RFC. (AR 55-57.) The ALJ's discrediting of Plaintiff's testimony about the severity of her pain was not supported by specific, clear and convincing reasons.

Plaintiffs' evidence, which must be credited, requires a finding of disability. As there are no outstanding issues to be resolved, benefits must be awarded.

A. The Sequential Evaluation

The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

The first step is to determine "whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantially gainful activity." Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity, disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. An impairment is not severe if it does not significantly limit the claimant's ability to work. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996). The ALJ, however, must consider the combined effect of all the claimant's impairments on his or her ability to function, regardless of whether each alone is sufficiently severe. Id. Also, the ALJ must consider the claimant's subjective symptoms in determining severity. Id.

Third, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed, in Appendix I of the regulations. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. If the impediment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is presumptively disabled. Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141.

Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work. Pinto v. Massanari, 249 F.3d 840, 844-45 (9th Cir. 2001). If the claimant cannot perform his or her past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to the fifth step and must determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing ...


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