Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Contreras v. Astrue

May 28, 2010

DEBORAH CONTRERAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Abrams United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed this action on May 11, 2009, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on June 1, 2009, and June 3, 2009. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on December 4, 2009, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on March 6, 1961. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 113.] She completed school through the eighth grade, and has past relevant work experience as a waitress and a stock clerk. [AR at 123-26, 169, 373.]

On August 25, 2004, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income payments, alleging that she has unable to work since January 4, 2003, due to depression, schizophrenia, hepatitis A, B and C, and recovering drug addiction. [AR at 157, 163-64.] After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 45, 52, 57.] A hearing was held on December 5, 2006, at which plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on her own behalf. [AR at 352-76.] A vocational expert also testified. [AR at 373-75.] On January 9, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled, finding that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers" that plaintiff can perform. [AR at 38-44.] Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision. [AR at 84.] The Appeals Council granted plaintiff's request for review and on May 3, 2007, it vacated the hearing decision and remanded the case to an ALJ to resolve the issues it identified, including requiring the ALJ to discuss the opinions of the State Agency physicians. [AR at 87-90.]

On August 21, 2007, a hearing was held before a different ALJ at which plaintiff again appeared with counsel and testified on her own behalf. [AR at 377-400.] A medical expert and a vocational expert also testified at the hearing. [AR at 385-89, 397-99.] On November 26, 2007, another medical expert submitted an opinion. [AR at 348-51.] On February 13, 2008, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 12-21.] Plaintiff requested review of the hearing decision. [AR at 7.] On April 2, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. [AR at 4-6.] This action followed.

III. 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 if 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, the term "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." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. 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; Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). 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; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1258.

IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

Persons are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995, as amended Apr. 9, 1996). In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b); Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5. If the claimant is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting her ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of non-disability is made and the claim is denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c); Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5. If the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing") set forth at 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn1 to perform her past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e); Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5. The claimant has the burden of proving that she is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a prima facie case of disability is established. Id. The Commissioner then bears the burden of establishing that the claimant is not disabled because she can perform other substantial gainful work available in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1099 (9th Cir. 1999). The determination of this issue comprises the fifth and final step in the sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); Lester, 81 F.3d at 828 n.5; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.

B. THE ALJ'S APPLICATION OF THE FIVE-STEP PROCESS

In this case, at step one, the ALJ concluded plaintiff has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since August 25, 2004, the application date. [AR at 14.] At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has the "severe" impairments of obesity, edema, drug addiction, and depression. [Id.] At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's impairments, individually or in combination, do not meet or equal any of the impairments in the Listing. [Id.] The ALJ further found that plaintiff retained the RFC to perform a "narrowed range" of light work*fn2 with various limitations. [AR at 16.] At step four, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a retail sales clerk. [AR at 20.] At step five, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.