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Dosey v. Astrue

May 10, 2010

DOROTHY DOSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. Woehrle United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of supplemental security income ("SSI"). The court finds that judgment should be granted in favor of defendant, affirming the Commissioner's decision.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Dorothy Dosey was born on May 1, 1963, and was 41 years old at the time her application for benefits was filed. [Administrative Record ("AR") 22.] She has a limited high school education, is able to communicate in English, and has no past relevant work. [Id.] Plaintiff alleges disability on the basis of depression, an enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and skin illness. [AR 80.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff's complaint was filed on July 18, 2007. On November 26, 2007, Defendant filed an answer and Plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On March 20, 2008, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. On July 14, 2009, this matter was randomly re-assigned to the calendar of the undersigned for all further proceedings. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On November 23, 2004, Plaintiff applied for SSI under Title XVI of the Social Security Act alleging disability since October 26, 2003. [AR 59.] After the application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on September 27, 2006, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mason D. Harrell Jr. [AR 333-65.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel and gave testimony. [AR 336-54.] The ALJ denied benefits in a decision issued November 6, 2006. [AR 11-23.] When the Appeals Council denied review on June 18, 2007, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 4-6.]

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's (or ALJ's) findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. However, if the court determines that a finding is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the finding and set aside the decision to deny benefits. See Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001); Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995)(per curiam). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. It is "relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must review the administrative record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-721; see also Osenbrock, 240 F.3d at 1162.

V. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

To be eligible for benefits a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable impairment which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity and which is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1098; Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721; 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

Disability claims are evaluated using a five-step test:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.

Step two: Does the claimant have a "severe" impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding ...


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