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Samarripa v. Astrue

February 9, 2010

JUAN SAMARRIPA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on November 4, 2008, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for a period of disability ("POD") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). On February 4, 2009, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on July 1, 2009, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, in the alternative, remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings; and defendant seeks an order affirming the Commissioner's decision. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

On February 21, 2006, plaintiff filed applications for a POD and DIB. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 34-35.) Plaintiff alleges an inability to work since November 10, 2004, due to disorders of the spine. (A.R. 34.) Plaintiff has past work experience as a lumber yard supervisor, building maintenance man, power wash operator, and carpenter. (A.R. 88-92.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. (A.R. 36-39, 43-47.) On April 24, 2008, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Robert Evans ("ALJ"). (A.R. 14-33.) On May 29, 2008, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim, and the Appeals Counsel subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 5-13, 1-4.)

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

In his written decision, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2007, and plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 10, 2004, his alleged disability onset date. (A.R. 11.) The ALJ further found that plaintiff suffers from the severe impairment of chronic back pain, but he does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (A.R. 12.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work that would require him to: lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; walk and stand for two hours in an eight hour work day with a sit/stand option and sit for six hours in an eight hour work day; and engage in occasional climbing, bending, kneeling, stooping, crouching, and crawling. (A.R. 10.) The ALJ further found that plaintiff's testimony concerning his pain and limitations was not "sufficiently credible." (Id.)

Based on the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant work, but jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. (A.R. 12.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 10, 2004, the alleged disability onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those "'reasonably drawn from the record'" will suffice. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006)(quoting Stout v. Comm'r, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055-56 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Burch, 400 F.3d at 679.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff alleges the following two issues: (1) whether the ALJ properly determined that plaintiff did not meet or equal a listing; and (2) whether the ALJ made a proper credibility ...


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