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Fernandez v. Astrue

May 7, 2010

ZEFERINO FERNANDEZ, 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 Zeferino Fernandez ("Fernandez") filed a Complaint on January 8, 2009. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties filed Consents to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on January 15 and March 5, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 8-9.) The parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") on September 1, 2009, that addressed the disputed issues in the case. The Commissioner filed the certified administrative record ("AR"). The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the Court concludes that this matter is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings at Step Five.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On February 21, 2006, Fernandez filed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging an onset date of January 21, 2005. AR 11, 65-69. The application was denied initially. AR 54. Fernandez requested a hearing. AR 61. On March 31, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing at which Fernandez and a vocational expert testified. AR 28-53. On April 25, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 8-18. Fernandez requested review. AR 7. On November 28, 2008, the Appeals Council denied review. AR 3-6. 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); Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523. 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 that Fernandez has the following severe impairments: "degenerative changes in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine [ ] and, giving the claimant the benefit of the doubt, a pain disorder associated with psychological factors." AR 13. He has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work "except that [Fernandez] can perform postural activities occasionally, cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, can occasionally walk on uneven terrain, can occasionally climb, requires an assistive device for prolonged ambulation, can forcefully grip occasionally, and can perform simple work." AR 14. Fernandez cannot perform any past relevant work. AR 16. However, the ALJ found that "there are jobs ...


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