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Castagnola v. Astrue

October 5, 2010

SHANELL M. CASTAGNOLA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Jacqueline Chooljian United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. SUMMARY

On October 30, 2009, plaintiff Shanell M. Castagnola ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of plaintiff's application for benefits. The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, respectively ("Plaintiff's Motion") and ("Defendant's Motion"). The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L.R. 7-15; November 3, 2009 Case Management Order ¶ 5.

Based on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The findings of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material error.*fn1

II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

On March 3, 2005, plaintiff filed applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") 14, 53). Plaintiff asserted that she became disabled on June 26, 2003, due to: Bipolar, manic depressive, anxiety. (AR 14, 53, 191-92). The ALJ examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff, a medical expert and a vocational expert on June 18, 2007. (AR 411-63). On July 12, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 53-60).

On April 14, 2008, the Appeals Council granted review, vacated the ALJ's July 12, 2007 decision, and remanded the matter for further administrative proceedings. (AR 47-49). The ALJ again examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel), a medical expert and a vocational expert on February 18, 2009. (AR 378-410).

On May 18, 2009, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was disabled through the date of the decision, but was not eligible to receive benefits because plaintiff's substance use disorder was a contributing factor material to any disability caused by plaintiff's severe impairments. (AR 24-25). Specifically, the ALJ found:

(1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: mood disorder, not otherwise specified, anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified, and substance use disorder (AR 17); (2) plaintiff would continue to suffer from a severe impairment or combination of impairments if she discontinued substance use (AR 19); (3) plaintiff did not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments (AR 17); (4) if plaintiff discontinued substance use she would not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments that would meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments (AR 19); (5) based on all of plaintiff's impairments, including the substance abuse disorder, plaintiff did not retain the residual functional capacity to perform any type of work on a sustained, full-time basis, as she would be unable to complete eight-hour workdays and 40-hour workweeks and would miss more than two days of work per month (AR 18); (6) if plaintiff discontinued substance use, she would have the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with certain non-exertional limitations (AR 20); (7) plaintiff*fn2 could not perform her past relevant work (AR 18, 23); (8) considering, among other things, plaintiff's substance use disorder, there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform (18-19); but (9) if plaintiff discontinued substance use there would be a significant number of jobs in the national economy that plaintiff could perform (AR 24).

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's application for review. (AR 4-6).

III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Sequential Evaluation Process

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work she previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, ...


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