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Garcia v. Astrue

April 1, 2010

BEVERLY JEAN GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT (DOC. 1) ORDER DIRECTING THE ENTRY OF JUDGMENT FOR DEFENDANT MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, AND AGAINST PLAINTIFF BEVERLY JEAN GARCIA

Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis and with counsel with an action seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying Plaintiff's application of November 2, 2005, made pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act), for supplemental security income (SSI), in which she had alleged that she had been disabled since November 1, 2004, due to trouble breathing and pain in her knee when she sat, stood, bent her knee, or walked. (A.R. 100-106, 129.) The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), manifesting their consent in writings signed by the parties' authorized representatives and filed on behalf of Plaintiff on December 3, 2008, and on behalf of Defendant on December 10, 2008. Thus, the matter is assigned to the Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment.

The decision under review is that of Social Security Administration (SSA) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Michael J. Haubner, dated March 27, 2008 (A.R. 8-13), rendered after a hearing held on January 17, 2008, at which Plaintiff appeared and testified with the assistance of an attorney (A.R. 14-40). A vocational expert also testified.

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on September 26, 2008 (A.R. 1-3), and thereafter Plaintiff filed the complaint in this Court on November 20, 2008. Briefing commenced on September 2, 2009, and was completed with the filing of Defendant's brief on Ocober 5, 2009. The matter has been submitted without oral argument to the Magistrate Judge.

I. Jurisdiction

The Court has jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c)(3) and 405(g), which provide that an applicant suffering an adverse final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security with respect to SSI benefits after a hearing may obtain judicial review by initiating a civil action in the district court within sixty days of the mailing of the notice of decision. Plaintiff filed his complaint on November 20, 2008, less than sixty days after the mailing of the notice of decision on or about September 26, 2008.

II. Standard and Scope of Review

Congress has provided a limited scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits under the Act. In reviewing findings of fact with respect to such determinations, the Court must determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla," Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 402 (1971), but less than a preponderance, Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119, n. 10 (9th Cir. 1975). It is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The Court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion; it may not simply isolate a portion of evidence that supports the decision. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).

It is immaterial that the evidence would support a finding contrary to that reached by the Commissioner; the determination of the Commissioner as to a factual matter will stand if supported by substantial evidence because it is the Commissioner's job, and not the Court's, to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 (9th Cir. 1975).

In weighing the evidence and making findings, the Commissioner must apply the proper legal standards. Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988). This Court must review the whole record and uphold the Commissioner's determination that the claimant is not disabled if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards, and if the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See, Sanchez v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d at 995. If the Court concludes that the ALJ did not use the proper legal standard, the matter will be remanded to permit application of the appropriate standard. Cooper v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 557, 561 (9th Cir. 1987).

III. Disability

A. Legal Standards

In order to qualify for benefits, a claimant must establish that she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant must demonstrate a physical or mental impairment of such severity that the claimant is not only unable to do the claimant's previous work, but cannot, considering age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. 1382c(a)(3)(B); Quang Van Han v. Bowen, 882 F.2d 1453, 1456 (9th Cir. 1989). The burden of establishing a disability is initially on the claimant, who must prove that the claimant is unable to return to his or her former type of work; the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to identify other jobs that the claimant is capable of performing considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, as well as her age, education and last fifteen years of work experience. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990).

The regulations provide that the ALJ must make specific sequential determinations in the process of evaluating a disability: 1) whether the applicant engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged date of the onset of the impairment, 2) whether solely on the basis of the medical evidence the claimed impairment is severe, that is, of a magnitude sufficient to limit significantly the individual's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities; 3) whether solely on the basis of medical evidence the impairment equals or exceeds in severity certain impairments described in Appendix I of the regulations; 4) whether the applicant has sufficient residual functional capacity, defined as what an individual can still do despite limitations, to perform the applicant's past work; and 5) whether on the basis of the applicant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the applicant can perform any other gainful and substantial work within the economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.*fn1

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic smoking, but Plaintiff had no impairment or combination thereof that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (A.R. 10.) Plaintiff retained an unlimited exertional capacity to perform work, but she must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants. (A.R. 10.) She could perform her past relevant work of assembler and thus had not been under a disability since November 2, 2005, the date the application for SSI was filed. (A.R. 12.)

C. Plaintiff's Contentions

Plaintiff's arguments concern step three, at which Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to 1) consider adequately whether Plaintiff's impairments met a listed impairment, namely, ยง3.03A or 3.03B for asthma, and 2) state adequate reasoning concerning his ...


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