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Grigsby v. Astrue

January 22, 2010

BOBBY GRIGSBY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Wistrich United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue.

Administrative Proceedings

The procedural facts are summarized in the joint stipulation. Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on July 15, 2005, due to depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and polysubstance abuse.[JS 2]. In a written hearing decision that constitutes the Commissioner's final decision in this matter, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") found that plaintiff had those three mental impairments, they were severe, and they met sections 12.04 and 12.09 of the Listing of Impairments (the "listing"). [AR 12-13]. The ALJ further found that if plaintiff stopped using drugs and alcohol, plaintiff would continue to have severe mental impairments, but he would retain the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at any exertional level. His mental impairment would preclude work involving the following: more than moderate stress from others, fast paced work, high production quotas, safety operations, dangerous equipment, heights, hypervigilance, and public contact. The claimant has a 10th grade education and can read and write simple words. He is limited to simple repetitive tasks involving two steps of instructions. [AR 14].

The ALJ found that plaintiff's RFC without drug or alcohol used precluded him from performing his past relevant work. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff's RFC would not preclude him from performing the alternative jobs of linen room attendant, hand packer, and hospital cleaner. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff would not be disabled if he stopped using drugs and alcohol. [AR 19-20].

Standard of Review

The Commissioner's denial of benefits should be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Stout v. Comm'r, Social Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). "It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)(internal quotation marks omitted). The court is required to review the record as a whole and to consider evidence detracting from the decision as well as evidence supporting the decision. Robbins v. Social Sec. Admin, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999). "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas, 278 F.3d at 954 (citing Morgan v. Comm'r of Social Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir.1999)).

Discussion

Alternative jobs Plaintiff contends that the jobs of linen room attendant, hand packer, and hospital cleaner are not consistent with the RFC finding made by the ALJ. [See JS 3-11]. Specifically, plaintiff contends that the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") assigns those jobs a "Reasoning Development" level of 2 (or 3 for the job of linen room attendant), putting those jobs beyond plaintiff's RFC as formulated by the ALJ. [See AR 14].

DOT job descriptions include a "General Educational Development" ("GED") definition component, which "embraces those aspects of education (formal and informal) which are required of the worker for satisfactory job performance." The GED component is comprised of three discrete scales: "Reasoning Development," "Math Development," and "Language Development." The GED reasoning, math, and language development scales range from Level 1 (low) to Level 6 (high). Levels 1 through 3 are defined as follows:

LEVEL 1 Apply commonsense understanding to carry out simple one- or two-step instructions. Deal with standardized situations with occasional or no variables in or from these situations encountered on the job.

LEVEL 2 Apply commonsense understanding to carry out detailed but uninvolved written or oral instructions. Deal with problems involving a few concrete variables in or from standardized situations.

LEVEL 3 Apply commonsense understanding to carry out instructions furnished in written, oral, or diagrammatic form. Deal with problems involving several concrete ...


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