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Valle v. Astrue

February 23, 2010

GUADALUPE VALLE, 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 July 2, 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 October 16, 2008, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on April 2, 2009, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, alternatively, remanding the case to the Commissioner for a new administrative hearing; and defendant asks that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed her application for a POD and DIB on October 25, 2004, alleging an inability to work since August 2, 2004, due to complications from hepatitis C and depression. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 13, 101-03.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a lamp painter, packer, administrative assistant, and aircraft assembler. (A.R. 14.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim for benefits, and plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (A.R. 81-86.) On January 22, 2007, plaintiff, who was not represented by counsel, appeared and testified, with the assistance of a Spanish language interpreter, at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Robert J. Grossman ("ALJ"). (A.R. 20-78.)

In his written decision, the ALJ indicated that, plaintiff "stated at the hearing that she was amending her application to request a 'closed period' of disability from August 2, 2004 to July 2, 2005." (A.R. 13.) Notwithstanding the fact that if, in fact, plaintiff had so amended her application, then the 12-month durational requirement established by 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) would not have been met, the ALJ nevertheless addressed whether plaintiff was disabled from August 2, 2004, to July 2, 2005. (A.R. 19.)

On August 2, 2007, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 13-19), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 2-4).

The ALJ found that plaintiff met the nondisability requirements for a POD and DIB, and was insured for benefits through June 30, 2006. (A.R. 18.) The ALJ further found that plaintiff had been engaging in substantial gainful activity since October 12, 2006. (Id.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following "severe" impairment: hepatitis C. (A.R. 18.) The ALJ found that the "medical evidence does not support the contentions of [plaintiff] and her husband," and plaintiff "was not limited to the degree she has alleged during the period in question." (A.R. 16-17.)

Consistent with the opinion of the consultative internal medicine examiner, Barry Gordon Gwartz, M.D., the ALJ found that plaintiff was able to: lift 20 pounds occasionally; lift and carry 10 pounds frequently; and walk and stand for six hours in an eight hour work day. (A.R. 18-19.)

Based on the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff would have been, and still is, able to return to any of her past relevant jobs. (A.R. 18.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at anytime through June 30, 2006, her date last insured. (A.R. 19.)

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 nondisability 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 three issues: (1) whether the ALJ fully and fairly developed the record; (2) whether the ALJ considered plaintiff's treating physician's opinion properly; and (3) whether the ALJ erred in determining the credibility of ...


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