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Caldera v. Astrue

July 27, 2010

SYLVIA CALDERA, 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

Sylvia Caldera filed this action on May 11, 2009. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on June 1 and 2, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 7, 9.) On January 13, 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 April 13, 2006, Caldera filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Administrative Record ("AR") 37. On April 24, 2006, Caldera filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits. Id. In both applications, Caldera alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 1998. Id. However, Caldera subsequently amended the onset date to September 1, 2004. Id. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 29-32. On February 15, 2007, Caldera requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 62. On January 2, 2008, the ALJ conducted a hearing. AR 13-28. Caldera failed to appear. AR 15, 37, 82. Caldera was represented by counsel at the hearing, at which a medical expert and vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 13-28, 37. On June 21, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision partially granting and partially denying benefits. AR 33-50. On April 15, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Caldera's request for review. AR 1-3. 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

Caldera has the following severe combination of impairments: "osteoarthritis in the bilateral knees, an abdominal disorder, and hypertension." AR 41. Caldera "also has medically determinable, but non-severe, mental impairments: depressive disorder, not otherwise specified ('NOS'), and an anxiety disorder, NOS." AR 42.

Caldera was disabled from May 1, 2005 through April 30, 2007, inclusive. AR 46. During the period of her disability, Caldera's "abdominal disorder medically equaled the criteria of section(s) 5.06(A)(E) of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ["Listing of Impairments"]." AR 44-45. Caldera was not disabled prior to May 1, ...


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