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Moore v. Astrue

August 10, 2010

KYM D. MOORE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on January 27, 2009, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). On March 10, 2009, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on September 11, 2009, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings; and defendant seeks an order affirming the Commissioner's decision. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On September 21, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging an inability to work since August 1, 2001, due to thoracic outlet syndrome,*fn1 carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, depression, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 58-63, 82, 85-86.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a secretary and a clerical assistant. (A.R. 20, 75, 86.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially (A.R. 50-54), and on August 29, 2007, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Charles L. Hall ("ALJ"). (A.R. 346-73.) On October 10, 2007, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application (A.R. 16-21), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 4-6).

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 21, 2005, her application date. (A.R. 17.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has "severe" bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, but she does not have any impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (A.R. 17-18.) The ALJ found that plaintiff does not have a "severe" mental impairment. (A.R. 18.)

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms about which plaintiff complained, but that plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms are "not entirely credible." (A.R. 19-20.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a secretary and clerical assistant. (A.R. 20.)

Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since September 21, 2005, the date her application was filed. (A.R. 21.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those "'reasonably drawn from the record'" will suffice. Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" ...


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