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Hithe v. Astrue

June 15, 2010

NIASANDI S. HITHE, 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 Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The court finds that judgment should be granted in favor of defendant, affirming the Commissioner's decision.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Niasandi S. Hithe was born on October 7, 1974, and was thirty-one years old at the time she filed her application for benefits. [Administrative Record ("AR") 74, 79.] She met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2003. [AR 13.] She graduated high school, has some trade school courses, and has past relevant work as a telephone clerk, day guard, dispatcher, customer service representative, fast-food cashier, and file clerk. [AR 20.] Plaintiff alleges disability on the basis of epilepsy. [AR 95.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff's complaint was lodged on April 10, 2009, and filed on April 20, 2009. On October 22, 2009, Defendant filed an Answer and Plaintiff's Administrative Record. On December 22, 2009, 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. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff applied for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act, and SSI under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, on February 6, 2006, alleging disability since January 30, 1999. [AR 74, 79.] After the applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on April 2, 2008, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR 32.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel and gave testimony. [AR 35.] The ALJ also considered the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE"). [AR 50.] The ALJ denied benefits in a written decision issued on May 21, 2008. [AR 10-22.] When the Appeals Council denied review on March 20, 2009, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 1.]

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).

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 of not disabled is appropriate.

Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is automatically ...


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