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Torres v. Astrue

October 19, 2010

LEONARD TORRES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederick F. Mumm United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for social security benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits. On March 12, 2009 and March 19, 2009, plaintiff and defendant, respectively, consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pursuant to the case management order entered on March 3, 2009, on September 22, 2009, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation detailing each party's arguments and authorities. The Court has reviewed the administrative record (the "AR"), filed by defendant on July 28, 2009, and the Joint Stipulation (the "JS"). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 22, 2007, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits. (See AR 52-55.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 52-55, 56-59, 61-65.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (AR 66.) ALJ Michael D. Radensky held a hearing on September 18, 2008. (AR 16-51.) Plaintiff appeared without counsel and testified at the hearing. (See id.)

On December 2, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (AR 10-15.) On December 30, 2008, plaintiff sought review of the decision before the Social Security Administration Appeals Council. (AR 6.) The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on January 13, 2009. (AR 1-3.)

Plaintiff filed his complaint herein on February 27, 2009.

CONTENTIONS

Plaintiff raises five issues in this action:

1. Whether the ALJ properly considered the Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation completed by the treating psychiatrist;

2. Whether the ALJ properly considered the lay witness testimony;

3. Whether the ALJ complied with Social Security Ruling 96-7p regarding the type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of plaintiff's medications;

4. Whether the ALJ properly considered plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity; and

5. Whether the ALJ posed a complete hypothetical to the vocational expert.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner'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. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 575-76 (9th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 529-30 (9th Cir. 1986). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1984). However, even if substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision, the decision must be reversed if the proper legal standard was not applied. Howard ex rel. Wolff v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 1006, 1014-15 (9th Cir. 2003).

DISCUSSION

1. The Treating Psychiatrist's Evaluation

On May 2, 2008, Daryoush Jamal, M.D., completed a Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation form upon plaintiff's admission to City of Angels Medical Center for emergency psychiatric care. (AR 278-79.) Dr. Jamal reported that plaintiff had decreased sleep, appetite, energy, and interest and had a disheveled appearance. (AR 279.) Dr. Jamal further reported that plaintiff exhibited poor impulse control, a distressed and anxious mood, and a blunt affect. (Id.) Dr. Jamal also noted that plaintiff was suffering from hallucinations. (Id.) Dr. Jamal diagnosed plaintiff with major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe, with psychotic features and assigned plaintiff a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 20.*fn1 (AR 278.)

On May 6, 2008, Dr. Jamal completed a Discharge Summary form upon plaintiff's discharge from City of Angels Medical Center. (AR 276-77.) Dr. Jamal reported that during his stay, plaintiff was started with therapy and given various medications, including, inter alia, risperidone 2mg, Zoloft 50 mg, and Zyprexa 20 mg. (AR 276.) After continuing treatment, plaintiff stabilized and was discharged to his family "with condition improved." (AR 277.) Dr. Jamal gave plaintiff a "final diagnosis" of major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate. He further noted that upon admission, plaintiff had a GAF score of "15"; he assigned ...


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