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Moreno v. Astrue

August 11, 2010

JUANITA MORENO, 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 THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY AND REMANDING FOR IMMEDIATE AWARD OF BENEFITS

PROCEEDINGS

On May 22, 2009, Juanita Moreno ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant" or "Moreno") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on August 11, 2009. On December 7, 2009, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS"). The matter is now ready for decision.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before this Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for an immediate award of benefits.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Juanita Moreno is a 63 year old female who was determined to have the medically determinable severe impairments of type II diabetes mellitus and degenerative disc disease of the lower thoracic, lumbar and cervical spine. (AR 14.) She also was determined to have the medically determinable but nonsevere mental impairment of depressive disorder. (AR 15.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the August 25, 2006, application date. (AR 14.)

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on May 15, 2007, and on reconsideration on August 12, 1007. (AR 12.) She filed a timely request for hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mary L. Everstine on December 1, 2008, in Santa Barbara, California. (AR 12.) Claimant appeared and testified. (AR 12.) Vocational expert Elizabeth Cerezo also testified. (AR 12.)

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 14, 2009. (AR 12-19.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn1 to perform the full range of medium work (AR 15), including her past relevant work as a caregiver and driver (AR 18), and other jobs in the national economy in the light work category, such as a companion for domestic care. (AR 18-19.) The ALJ also determined that Claimant has a limited education but is able to communicate in English. (AR 18.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the disputed issues that Plaintiff is raising as grounds for reversal and remand are as follows:

1. Whether the ALJ properly considered the medical evidence to find that Plaintiff does not suffer from a severe mental impairment.

2. Whether the ALJ properly considered the subjective pain testimony of Plaintiff.

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 supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). If the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, then the claimant is entitled to benefits.

SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION

The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or... can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process to determine whether a claimant is disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

The first step is to determine whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantially gainful activity. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If the claimant is engaging in substantially gainful activity, disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. Third, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed, in Appendix I of the regulations. Id. If the impediment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is presumptively disabled. Bowen, 482 U.S. at 141. Fourth, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work. Pinto v. Massanari, 249 F.3d 840, 844-45 (9th Cir. 2001). Before making the step four determination, the ALJ first must determine the claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). The RFC must consider all of the claimant's impairments, including those that are not severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(e), 416.945(a)(2); Social Security ...


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