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Parra v. Astrue

August 25, 2010

MIREYA PARRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marc L. Goldman United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Mireya Parra seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

I. Background

Plaintiff was born on March 28, 1950. (Administrative Record ("AR") 55.) She is a high school graduate, with additional training in cosmetology. (AR 74-75.) Plaintiff was employed as a traffic coordinator/import-export manager for an aerospace company from 1979 to 1999. (AR 70.)

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on November 16, 2005, alleging that she has been disabled since April 16, 1999, as a result of depression, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, inability to concentrate, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (AR 55, 69.) Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2004. (AR 401.) In order to qualify for disability insurance benefits, Plaintiff is required to establish that she was disabled on or before the date her insured status expired. 20 C.F.R. §404.131(b)(1); Vincent ex rel. Vincent v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1393, 1394 (9th Cir. 1984); Flatten v. Secretary of Health & Human Serv., 44 F.3d 1453, 1463 (9th Cir. 1995). Plaintiff was therefore required to establish that she was disabled on or before December 31, 2004, in order to be eligible for disability insurance benefits.

Plaintiff's application was denied initially by the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on the basis of insufficient evidence. (AR 27.) On reconsideration, the SSA affirmed its decision that there was insufficient evidence to establish disability on or before December 31, 2004. (AR 31-35.) An administrative hearing was started on November 7, 2006, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Lawrence D. Wheeler, and was continued to April 12, 2007. (AR 343-364, 365-388.) On August 8, 2007, ALJ Wheeler issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. (AR 11-22.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of cervical spine pain, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome but that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet, or were not medically equal to, one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR 21.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to do the full range of light work and that she was able to perform her past relevant work. (Id.)

On March 21, 2008, the Appeals Council denied review (AR 5-7) and Plaintiff sought judicial review in this Court. On January 26, 2009, this Court remanded the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings, finding that the ALJ had erred in finding that Plaintiff's mental impairment was not severe. Parra v. Astrue, CV 08-3173-MLG. (AR 417-435.)

On June 16, 2009, a second administrative hearing was held before ALJ Wheeler. (AR 461-481.) On September 11, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision again concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 400-408.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of cervical spine pain, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and depression. (AR 402.) The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff's depression prevented her from performing her past relevant work, but that it was not sufficiently severe to preclude all work. (AR 407.) Relying on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, such as assembler, small products and back office helper. (Id.) On December 4, 2009, the Appeals Council denied review. (AR 389-392.)

Plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review. On August 11, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stp.") of disputed facts and issues. Plaintiff alleges: (1) the ALJ failed to accord proper weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist; (2) the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff was only mildly to moderately impaired due to her depression was not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the ALJ erred in assessing and weighing Plaintiff's testimony and subjective complaints. (Joint Stp. 3.) Plaintiff seeks an award of benefits. (Joint Stp. 17.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed.

(Joint Stp. 18.)

II. Standard of Review

The Court must uphold the Social Security Administration's disability determination unless it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008)(citing Stout v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006)). Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)(citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court "must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). "If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion," the reviewing court "may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the ALJ." Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882.

III. Discussion

A. The ALJ Accorded Appropriate Weight to the Opinion of Plaintiff's ...


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