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Locke v. Astrue

November 12, 2010

KENNETH LOCKE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

PROCEEDINGS

On September 10, 2009, Kenneth Locke ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on March 9, 2010. On May 10, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS"). The matter is now ready for decision.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before the Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accordance with law and with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 53 year old male who was found to have the medically determinable severe impairments of anxiety disorder, hepatitis C, diabetes mellitus, and degenerative disc disease. (AR 10.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 25, 2007, the application date. (AR 10.)

Plaintiff's claim for SSI benefits was denied initially on September 21, 2007, and on reconsideration on January 25, 2008. (AR 8.) Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joseph D. Schloss on March 26, 2009, in San Bernardino, California. (AR 8.) Claimant appeared and testified. (AR 8.) Medical expert William L. Debolt, M.D., and vocational expert Sandra M. Fioretti also appeared and testified. (AR 8.)

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 8, 2009. (AR 8-14.) The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn1 to perform medium exertion work, except that he should avoid unprotected heights and dangerous machinery. (AR 11.) Plaintiff had no prior relevant work (AR 13), but the vocational expert testified that Plaintiff could perform certain jobs in the national economy, such as industrial cleaner, hand packager, and kitchen helper. (AR 14.)

The ALJ concluded that Claimant was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 14.) The Appeals Council denied review on August 6, 2009. (AR 1-3.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the disputed issues that Plaintiff raises as grounds for reversal are as follows:

1. Whether the ALJ posed a complete hypothetical question to the vocational expert.

2. Whether the ALJ properly held that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of industrial cleaner, hand packager, and kitchen helper.

3. Whether the ALJ properly considered the treating psychiatrist's opinion.

4. Whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's testimony and made proper credibility findings.

Embedded in some of these issues is the contention that the ALJ failed to develop the record adequately.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ'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." Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a ...


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