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Wilkins v. Astrue

April 6, 2010

LESHARAE WILKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alicia G. Rosenberg United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Lesharae Wilkins ("Wilkins") filed a Complaint on February 18, 2009. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties filed consents to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on March 6 and 27, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 8-9.) The parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") on September 11, 2009, that addresses the disputed issues in the case. The Commissioner filed the certified administrative record ("AR"). The Court took the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 14, 2005, Wilkins filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits, alleging disability since May 1, 2005. A.R. 12. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 45-50. On April 30, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing, at which Wilkins testified. AR 31-44. On August 20, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 9-22. Wilkins requested review. AR 5. On January 14, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Wilkins' request for review. AR 2-4. This lawsuit followed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

In this context, "substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance -- it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009). When determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled and is eligible for benefits, "only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are 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." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22, 124 S.Ct. 376, 157 L.Ed. 2d 333 (2003).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found Wilkins has the following severe impairments: "bipolar disorder, cocaine abuse dependence, marijuana abuse disorder, amphetamine abuse disorder and alcohol dependence disorder." AR 20. Her "polysubstance use disorder and alcohol dependence disorder meets the criteria of Listing 12.09 of the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4." AR 21. She "is disabled when her polysubstance use disorder and alcohol abuse disorder are considered." Id.

However, "[w]hen [Wilkins's] polysubstance use disorder and alcohol abuse disorder are not considered, [she] does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that has significantly limited (or is expected to significantly limit) the ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore, [she] does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments [ ]." Id. Her "polysubstance use disorder and alcohol dependence disorder are contributing factors material to the determination of disability." ...


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