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Daniels v. Astrue

May 12, 2010

ANNETTE M. DANIELS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL A. 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 Annette M. Daniels ("Daniels") filed a Complaint on February 12, 2009. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties filed Consents to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on March 6 and 18, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 5, 7.) The parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") on September 17, 2009, that addressed the disputed issues. 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 affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On November 29, 2006, Daniels filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging an onset date of June 27, 2005. AR 12, 103-05. The application was denied. AR 64. Daniels requested a hearing. AR 73. On May 16, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing at which Daniels, her husband, and a vocational expert testified. AR 23-63. On September 15, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 9-21. Daniels requested review. AR 6. On December 19, 2008, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-4. 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); Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). 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 Daniels meets the insured status requirements through September 30, 2010. AR 15. Daniels has the following medically determinable severe physical impairments: "arthritis, a back disorder, asthma and systemic lupus erythematosus."*fn1 Id. Daniels has the residual functional capacity for "light work with limitations. She can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand and walk for 6 hours out of an 8 hour day and she can sit for 6 hours out of an 8 hour day, with normal breaks. She can push and pull commensurate with her lifting ability without significant limitation. She is limited in bending and stooping and can only bend and stoop occasionally. She is also precluded from excessive dust and fumes due to her asthma." AR 19. Daniels "remains capable of performing her past relevant work as a post office clerk." AR 20.

C. Treating Physicians

Where the ALJ declines to give a treating physician's opinion controlling weight, the ALJ considers several factors including the following: (1) length of the treatment relationship and frequency of examination;*fn2 (2) nature and extent of the treatment relationship;*fn3 (3) the amount of relevant evidence supporting the opinion and the quality of the explanation provided; (4) consistency with record as a whole; and (5) the specialty of the physician providing the opinion. See Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 631 (9th Cir. 2007); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(1)-(6).

Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-2p*fn4 explains that "a finding that a treating source medical opinion is not well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques or is inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case record means only that the opinion is not entitled to 'controlling weight,' not that the opinion should be rejected. . . . In many cases, a treating source's medical opinion will be entitled to the greatest weight and should be adopted, even if it does not meet the test for controlling weight." Orn, 495 F.3d at 631-32 (quoting SSR 96-2p).

An opinion of a treating physician is given more weight than the opinion of non-treating physicians. Id. at 631. To reject an uncontradicted opinion of a treating physician, an ALJ must state clear and convincing reasons that are supported by substantial evidence. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1216 (9th Cir. 2005). When a treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another doctor, "the ALJ may not reject this opinion without providing specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record. This can be done by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings." Orn, 495 F.3d at 632 (citations and quotation marks omitted). "When there ...


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