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Williams v. Astrue

February 1, 2010

CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Abrams United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed this action on April 28, 2008, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on May 7, 2008, and June 18, 2008. Pursuant to the Court's order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on April 20, 2009, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on October 16, 1947. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 107, 313.] He has completed high school and three years of college, but has no past relevant work experience. [AR at 16, 119, 427.]

Plaintiff received Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments from April 1, 1981, until May 1, 2000, for his psychiatric disability, schizophrenia. [AR at 66.] The Administration determined that plaintiff's condition had improved as of May 1, 2000, and as a result, plaintiff's SSI payments ceased. [AR at 66.] Plaintiff appealed the decision, and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on October 5, 2001, at which plaintiff testified on his own behalf. A vocational expert and plaintiff's mother also testified. [AR at 66.] On October 26, 2001, the ALJ issued a decision affirming the cessation of plaintiff's benefits. [AR at 62-70.]

On May 23, 2002, plaintiff filed a new application for SSI payments in which he alleged that he has been unable to work since 1970 due to, among other things, schizophrenia and back, knee, foot, and shoulder pain.*fn1 [AR at 107-09, 112-21.] After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. [AR at 74-84.] A hearing was held on October 6, 2003, at which plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on his own behalf. A medical expert also testified. [AR at 20-51.] A supplemental hearing was held on May 25, 2004, at which plaintiff appeared with counsel and a vocational expert testified. [AR at 52-61.] On August 25, 2004, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. [AR at 9-17.] The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the hearing decision on April 27, 2005. [AR at 4-7.] Plaintiff then filed an action in District Court, Case No. ED CV 05-461-PLA, challenging the Commissioner's decision. On July 18, 2006, this Court remanded the matter for further proceedings, and ordered the ALJ to reconsider, among other things, the opinion of plaintiff's treating psychiatrists, Dr. W. Lawrence and Dr. Guia Montenegro. [AR at 443-55.]

On December 14, 2006, the Appeals Council issued an order remanding the case for further proceedings.*fn2 [AR at 440-42.] A hearing was held on October 5, 2007, at which plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on his own behalf. A medical expert and a vocational expert also testified. [AR at 666-88.] On February 11, 2008, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, again finding plaintiff not disabled. [AR at 413-28.] This action followed.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

In this context, the term "substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance -- it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. When determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257; Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1258.

IV. EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

Persons are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at ...


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