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Hernandez v. Astrue

September 28, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") partially denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.*fn1 (Dkt. No. 17.) In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff alleges that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by (1) failing to properly calculate plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"); and (2) relying on improper or incomplete vocational expert ("VE") testimony. (Dkt. No. 20.) After careful consideration of the entire record and the arguments submitted by the parties, for the reasons that follow, the court will deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, grant the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and direct the Clerk of Court to enter judgment in favor of the Commissioner.


Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits on October 24, 2005, alleging disability commencing on May 28, 2004. (See Administrative Transcript ("AT") 15.) Plaintiff was 47 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. (AT 21.) Plaintiff has a high school education and past work as a custodian. (Id.)

A. Procedural Background

The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. (AT 15.) Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ, and ALJ Sandra K. Rogers conducted a hearing regarding plaintiff's claim on October 23, 2007. (Id.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel at the hearing, appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) A vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (Id.)

In a decision dated March 19, 2008, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application. (See AT 15-23.) As discussed below, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was able to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.*fn3 (AT 22.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (AT 4-6.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

B. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ conducted the required five-step, sequential evaluation. At step one, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 24, 2005, the application date. (AT 17.) At step two, he concluded that plaintiff had the severe impairments of "degenerative disc disease of his spine; obesity; hypertension, which is fairly well-controlled; pes planus*fn4; and depression." (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any impairment listed in the applicable regulations. (Id.)

The ALJ next assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The ALJ found that:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a wide range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b). He can lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and can stand, walk or sit for six hours each in an eight hour workday. He can occasionally climb ramps or stairs but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He can frequently balance and can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. Mentally, he is able to perform at least simple, repetitive tasks and unskilled work.

(AT 18.)*fn5 In reaching her conclusion, the ALJ also discounted plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms or impairments as not fully credible.*fn6 (AT 19.)

At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff's RFC precluded plaintiff from performing his past relevant work as a custodian, because that work required plaintiff to lift up to 50 pounds. (AT 21.) Finally, the ALJ found, considering the plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the plaintiff can perform. (AT 22.) Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled. (AT 23.) II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is (1) free of legal error, and (2) supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bruce v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 1113, 1115 (9th Cir. 2009); accord Vernoff v. Astrue, 568 F.3d 1102, 1105 (9th Cir. 2009). This standard of review has been described as "highly deferential." Valentine v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 690 (9th Cir. 2009). "'Substantial evidence' means more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Bray v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 554 F.3d 1219, 1222 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting ...

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