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Straw v. Astrue

June 8, 2010

RAY N. STRAW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER PROCEEDINGS

On March 16, 2009, Ray N. Straw ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant"), filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for both Social Security disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Social Security income. The Commissioner filed an Answer on June 18, 2009. On November 13, 2009, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS").

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before the Magistrate Judge. The matter is now ready for decision. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accordance with law and with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 45 year old male who has the severe medical impairment of Schamberg's disease, a dermatological disorder. (AR 10.) He alleges an onset date of April 2, 2002. (AR 10.) He has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since that date. (AR 10.)

Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income on July 14, 2006. (AR 8.) The claims were denied initially on September 14, 2006, and on reconsideration on February 16, 2007. (AR 8.)

Plaintiff requested a hearing which was held on March 28, 2008, in San Bernardino, California, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") F. Keith Varni. ALJ Varni issued an unfavorable six page decision on August 19, 2008. (AR 8-13.) The ALJ determined that, notwithstanding his dermatological impairment, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work which is exertionally unlimited, including his past relevant work as a driver. (AR 10-11,15.) Consequently, the ALJ determined that Claimant has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 13.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "'more than a mere scintilla' but less than a preponderance." Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotations and citations omitted). This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

DISCUSSION

The Court reverses the ALJ's decision and remands for further proceedings. The ALJ did not properly consider Plaintiff's subjective pain symptoms. The ALJ also failed to develop the record fully, particularly in regard to Schamberg's disease. Further, the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiff's combined impairments of Schamberg's disease and hypertension.

A. The Sequential Evaluation

The Social Security Act defines disability as the inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

The first step is to determine "whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantially gainful activity." Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If the claimant is engaging in substantially gainful activity, disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. An impairment is not severe if it does not significantly limit the claimant's ability to work. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996). The ALJ, however, must consider the combined effect of all the claimant's impairments on his or her ...


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