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Smith v. Astrue

August 6, 2010

KEVIN M. SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Kevin M. Smith ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking to reverse and remand the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner" or the "Agency") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 27, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits, alleging disability beginning on December 1, 2006. (AR 115). Plaintiff alleged disability on the basis of knee pain, diabetes, blindness in his left eye, hypertension, seizures, Hepatitis C, and Depressive disorder with psychotic features. (Id.).

The Agency denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits initially on March 3, 2007, and upon reconsideration. (AR 46-52, 55-59). Plaintiff subsequently requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Lowell Fortune on March 11, 2009. (AR 63, 71, 74). At the hearing, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified, as did medical expert Dr. Michael Kania and vocational expert ("VE") David A. Rinehart. (AR 24).

On July 27, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 9-20). Plaintiff sought review of this decision before the Appeals Council. (AR 5). On September 23, 2009, the Appeals Council denied review and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-3, 5). On October 23, 2009, Plaintiff commenced the present action.

III. THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents him from engaging in substantial gainful activity and that is expected to *fn1 result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work he previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).

To decide if a claimant is entitled to benefits, an ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The steps are:

(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.

(2) Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, the claimant is found not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.

(3) Does the claimant's impairment meet or equal one of a list of specific impairments described in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is found disabled. If not, proceed to step four.

(4) Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.

(5) Is the claimant able to do any other work? If not, the claimant is found disabled. If so, the ...


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