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Pruitt v. Astrue

March 31, 2010

MARK PRUITT, 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 August 22, 2008, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). On November 7, 2008, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on May 18, 2009, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, alternatively, remanding the case 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 his application for SSI on March 24, 2006, alleging an inability to work since February 17, 2006, due to paranoid schizophrenia. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 79-81, 91.) He has past relevant work experience as a framer for a lumber company. (A.R. 92, 99-100.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim for benefits initially and upon reconsideration. (A.R. 50-54, 58-62.) On February 26, 2008, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Mason D. Harrell Jr. ("ALJ"). (A.R. 22-47.) On May 19, 2008, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 8-15), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3).

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 24, 2006, the application date. (A.R. 10.) The ALJ further found that plaintiff "is considered to have a 'drug and alcohol condition' and may be eligible for benefits." (Id.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the following "severe" impairments: organic mental disorder with history of psychotic symptoms secondary to drug abuse; personality disorder NOS with antisocial features; and a history of drug abuse. (A.R. 10.) However, plaintiff did 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. 11.)

The ALJ found that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform the strength demands of work at all exertional levels. (A.R. 12.) The ALJ further found that:

[F]rom a non-exertional standpoint, [plaintiff] can perform only moderately complex tasks involving up to four to five-step instructions; he can perform no safety operations; he must wear eyeglasses; people have to talk to him more loudly than normal; he must perform object-oriented work; and he can make no more than occasional contact with others.

(Id.)

Based upon the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's functional limitations did not preclude him from performing his past relevant work as a framer for a lumber company. (A.R. 14.)

Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, within the meaning of the Social Security Act, since March 24, 2006, the date the application was filed. (A.R. 14.)

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 ...


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