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Thompson v. Astrue

July 27, 2010

CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. 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

Christopher Thompson filed this action on July 1, 2009. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on July 23 and 31, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 8 & 10.) On January 5, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 3, 2004, Thompson filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits alleging a disability onset date of June 16, 2004. Administrative Record ("AR") 18, 232-33. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 18, 153, 160. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on January 24, 2007, at which Thompson and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 70-89. On March 1, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 18, 131-41. On July 23, 2007, the Appeals Council granted Thompson's request for review, vacated the decision of the ALJ, and remanded. AR 190-92. On April 8, 2008, a different ALJ conducted a hearing at which Thompson and a VE testified. AR 90-113. On December 31, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 15-34. The Appeals Council denied Thompson's request for review on May 19, 2009. AR 7-9. This action followed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews 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).

"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. In 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. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such 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

Thompson has the following severe combination of impairments: "adhesive capsulitis of the left shoulder, degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine . . . and substance abuse disorder."*fn1 AR 22. Thompson does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments. Id.

Thompson has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work limited to "simple, routine, repetitive tasks." AR 23. Thompson has no past relevant work. AR 32. Jobs involving unskilled light work exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Thompson can perform. AR 33-34.

C. Compliance with the Appeals Council's Remand Order

Thompson argues that the ALJ failed to comply with the terms of the Appeals Council's July 23, 2007 remand order to obtain, if available, treatment records from Dr. Tong, who opined in September 2006 that Thompson was completely disabled due to schizophrenia. JS 3 (citing AR 191-92, 360). According to Thompson, the ALJ's rejection of Dr. Tong's opinion, in part on the ground that Thompson had not produced his treatment records, was an improper attempt "to shift the burden of developing the ...


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