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Oldham v. Astrue

July 19, 2010

SHEILA SANGER OLDHAM, 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 February 27, 2009, Plaintiff Sheila Sanger Oldham ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (AR 29, 51, 79.) On June 10, 2009, the Commissioner filed an Answer to the Complaint. On November 19, 2009, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their positions and the issues in dispute.

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 was born on September 11, 1959. (AR 32, 79.) She was 46 years old on her alleged disability onset date of April 29, 2006, and 49 years old at the time of the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on September 16, 2008. (AR 20, 26, 32, 99.) Plaintiff has a high school education and attended some college. (AR 20, 33, 108). Plaintiff has past relevant work as a mammogram x-ray technician and has worked as an aircraft buyer and a tutor. (AR 20, 33-35, 91-92, 109-10.) Plaintiff also served in the United States military. (AR 79.)

Plaintiff filed an application for benefits with a protected filing date of November 6, 2006. (AR 51.) Plaintiff claims she is disabled due to bulging discs in her neck and back; pain in her knees, including chondromalacia in her right knee;*fn1 bursitis in both hips and pain in her right hip; and obesity. (AR 52, 99.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 29, 2006. (AR 14, 52.)

Following an initial denial of Plaintiff's claim on January 26, 2007 (AR 52 et seq.), Plaintiff filed a timely Request for Hearing on March 5, 2007, before an ALJ, claiming that she could not sit for 6 hours or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. (AR 57.) A hearing was held on September 16, 2008, and Plaintiff was represented by an attorney at the hearing. (AR 12, 26 et seq.) No vocational expert ("VE") appeared or testified at the hearing. (See AR 26-27.)

On October 14, 2008, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application at step five of the sequential evaluation. The ALJ found that, although Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work, she could perform other work in the economy and that, therefore, Plaintiff had not been under a disability from April 29, 2006, through October 14, 2008, the date of the ALJ's decision. (See AR 12-21.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") for the full range of sedentary work and decided that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience, a finding of "not disabled" was directed by Rule 201.21 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2 ("the grids").*fn2 (AR 21.)

On October 20, 2008, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (AR 7), and on January 23, 2009, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision. (AR 1.) As noted, Plaintiff commenced this action on February 27, 2009.

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, Plaintiff raises the following disputed issues as grounds for reversal or remand of the ALJ's decision:

1. Whether the ALJ provided legally sufficient reasons for rejecting Plaintiff's credibility, including Plaintiff's claims of chronic pain and resulting limitations on sitting and standing; and

2. Whether the ALJ properly rejected the opinions of treating physicians Dr. Richard Docherty and Dr. Stephen Yacoubian in favor of other examining and non-examining physicians' opinions. (See JS at 2-3.)

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 ...


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