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Burciaga v. Astrue

November 2, 2010

IMELDA BURCIAGA, 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 Imelda Burciaga seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of her application for Disability Insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and the action is dismissed with prejudice.

I. Facts and Procedural Background

Plaintiff was born on May 13, 1955. She has a sixth grade education and has relevant work experience as a sewing machine operator. (Administrative Record ("AR") 27, 28, 104, 116.)

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI and DIB on April 19, 2007, alleging disability as of July 20, 2000, due to hypertension and diabetes mellitus. (AR 17, 42.)

Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 47-56.) An administrative hearing was held on April 21, 2008, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Ariel L. Sotolongo. Plaintiff, represented by an attorney, testified, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). (AR 25-41.)

ALJ Sotolongo issued an unfavorable decision on September 23, 2008. (AR 17-22.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: morbid obesity, diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism. (AR 19.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet the requirements of any listed impairment found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR 20.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") was as follows:

The claimant can lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk for four hours out of an eight-hour workday; and can sit for four hours out of an eight-hour workday.

The claimant can frequently push and/or pull with the lower extremities. The claimant's residual functional capacity is consistent with a narrowed range of light exertion. (AR 20-21.) Relying upon the VE's testimony, the ALJ also determined that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a sewing machine operator and overlock sewing machine operator. (Id.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. (AR 21.)

The Appeals Council denied review on January 29, 2010. (AR 1-3.) Plaintiff then timely commenced this action, and on October 26, 2010, the parties filed a joint stipulation ("Joint Stp.") of disputed facts and issues. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past work. (Joint Stp. 3.) Defendant contends that Plaintiff actually raises three separate issues: (1) the requirements of Plaintiff's past relevant work exceed the RFC assessment; (2) Plaintiff was entitled to a finding of disability at Step Four based upon the Medical-Vocational Guidelines; and (3) the ALJ should have included Plaintiff's borderline intellectual functioning as a severe impairment and included associated restrictions. (Joint Stp. 6.) The Court agrees with Defendant's characterization of the issues and will therefore discuss each of these issues separately.

Plaintiff requests that the Court reverse and order an award of benefits or, in the alternative, remand for further proceedings. (Joint Stp. 17.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. (Joint Stp. 18.)

II. Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's decision must be upheld unless "the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094 (9th Cir. 1999); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). 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 ...


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