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Jester v. Astrue

January 27, 2010

HEATHER JESTER, 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 FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

PROCEEDINGS

On February 4, 2009, Heather Jester ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant"), proceeding in forma pauperis, filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on May 7, 2009. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") on August 28, 2009. The matter is now ready for decision.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before this Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits and remands for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 46 year old female who has the severe mental impairment of bipolar disorder. (AR 12.) She alleges a disability onset date of January 1, 1999. (AR 10.) She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 16, 2005. (AR 12.)

On December 16, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits. (AR 10.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on April 8, 2006, and on reconsideration on January 16, 2007. (AR 10.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing on February 15, 2007. (AR 10.) The claimant appeared and testified at a hearing held on December 4, 2007, in San Bernardino, California, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Jay E. Levine. (AR 10, 19.) Plaintiff's mother Nancy Hester testified as well. (AR 50.) Corinne Porter, an impartial vocational expert, also testified. (AR 10.) Plaintiff was not represented by counsel at the hearing.

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 28, 2007. (AR 1, 7-19.) The ALJ determined that Claimant has the severe impairment of bipolar disorder (AR 12) but was able to perform her past relevant work or alternative jobs in the national economy. (AR 17, 18.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act since the date the application was filed. (AR 18.)

On January 9, 2008, Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, accompanied by new medical testimony from Dr. Peterson. (AR 21.) The Appeals Council denied review on November 24, 2008, noting that it had considered the additional evidence submitted. (AR 1.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, there are four disputed issues:

1. Whether the Appeals Council properly considered the opinion of treating physician Dr. Peterson?

2. Whether the ALJ properly considered the State Agency's opinion?

3. Whether the ALJ posed a complete hypothetical question to the ...


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