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Bari v. Astrue

September 24, 2010

SAJEDA BARI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, 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 September 12, 2008, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). On November 12, 2008, 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 May 28, 2009, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, alternatively, remanding the case to the Commissioner for a new administrative hearing; and defendant asks that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed her application for SSI on February 7, 2007, alleging an inability to work since March 1, 2003, due to a migrating intrauterine device ("IUD"). (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 57, 70.) Plaintiff has no past relevant work experience. (A.R. 247.) The Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim for benefits initially (A.R. 45-48) and upon reconsideration (A.R. 36-41). On April 23, 2008, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Keith Dietterle ("ALJ"). (A.R. 242-60.) On May 21, 2008, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claims (A.R. 11-19), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 3-5).

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date of February 1, 2007. (A.R. 13.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff's history of migrating IUD constitutes a severe impairment. (Id.) However, the ALJ found that plaintiff does not have an impairment of combination of impairments that meets of medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.)

The ALJ further found that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work. (A.R. 13.) Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (A.R. 18.) The ALJ determined that, considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since February 1, 2007, the date the application was filed. (A.R. 19.)

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 (9th Cir. 1995). "Where the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a denial, [a federal court] may not substitute [its] judgment for the ALJ's." Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009)(citation and internal punctuation omitted).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Tommasetti v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008); Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005); see also Batson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 359 F.3d 1190, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004)("if evidence exists to support more than one rational interpretation, we must defer to the Commissioner's decision"). 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.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006)(quoting Stout v. Comm'r, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055-56 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Tommasetti, 533 F.3d at 1038; Burch, 400 F.3d at 679.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff alleges four issues: (1) whether the ALJ properly considered the treating physician's opinion; (2) whether the ALJ properly developed the record; (3) whether the ALJ properly considered plaintiff's testimony; and (4) whether the ALJ posed a complete hypothetical question to the vocational ...


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