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Kent v. Astrue

March 18, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Thomas J. Whelan United States District Judge


Plaintiff Christopher S. Kent ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue's ("Defendant") final decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. On January 22, 2010, Magistrate Judge Ruben B. Brooks issued a Report & Recommendation ("Report") advising this Court to grant Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and to deny Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. On February 12, 2010, Defendant filed an objection to the Report. The Court decides the matter on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See S.D. Cal. Civ. R. 7.1(d.1) And for the reasons cited below, the Court ADOPTS the Report.

I. Procedural Background

The facts of this case, including Plaintiff's medical history, are more fully set forth in the Report and are incorporated herein by reference. The following is a short summary of this case.

Plaintiff claims he became disabled on April 1, 2001 because of injuries he sustained to his back and shoulder. (Report at 2.) On May 12, 2006, he applied for disability insurance benefits. (Id. at 1.) On January 25, 2008, after a hearing in front of Administrative Law Judge Edward Steinman, Plaintiff was found to be not disabled. Id. Plaintiff then appealed the decision unsuccessfully and now seeks judicial review of Defendant's determination that he is not entitled to disability insurance or supplemental security income benefits. (Id. at 2.)

On September 26, 2008, Plaintiff filed his complaint for judicial review. (Doc. No. 1.) After Defendant filed his answer, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on August 28, 2009. (Doc. No. 11.) His argument is two-fold: (1) the ALJ failed to develop the record, and (2) it was legal error for the ALJ to disregard the opinion of Plaintiff's treating doctor.(Doc. No. 11-1 at 2.) Defendant subsequently filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on November 4, refuting the claims made in Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. No. 16.)

On January 22, 2010, Magistrate Judge Brooks issued the Report, agreeing with Plaintiff's second argument and recommending the matter be remanded for further proceeding. (Doc. No. 19.) Defendant objects on this point alone. (Doc. No. 20.)

II. Legal Standard

Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) set forth the duties of the district court in connection with a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. The district court "must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report ... to which objection is made," and "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c); see also United States v. Remsing, 874 F.2d 614, 617 (9th Cir. 1989); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980).

The Social Security Act entitles a claimant to disability benefits if he is unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(I), 423(d)(1)(A). To qualify for benefits, the impairment must result from "anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques."

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3); Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1984). Further, the impairment must be of "such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(2)(A).

Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act allow unsuccessful applicants to seek judicial review of the Commissioner's final agency decision. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). However, the scope of review is limited. A court may not overturn the Commissioner's final action unless (1) the ALJ's findings of fact are not supported by substantial evidence, or (2) the ALJ failed to apply the proper legal standards. See Flatten v. Secretary of Health and Human Services., 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995). "Substantial evidence" means evidence a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support the ALJ's conclusion, considering the record as a whole. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). In other words, substantial evidence means "more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance" of the evidence. Jamerson v. Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir. 1997). The Court must consider both the evidence that supports and detracts from the Commissioner's conclusions. See Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 459 (9th Cir. 2001); Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health and Human Services., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988).

Even if substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings, a court must set the decision aside if the ALJ failed to apply the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and reaching a decision. See Benitez v. Califano, 573 F.2d 653, 655 (9th Cir. 1978). But if the evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the ...

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