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Colquitt v. Astrue

November 15, 2010

BARBARA COLQUITT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosalyn M. Chapman United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Barbara Colquitt filed a complaint on November 19, 2009, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying her applications for disability benefits. On April 16, 2010, the Commissioner answered the complaint, and the parties filed a joint stipulation on May 25, 2010.

BACKGROUND

On February 6, 2007, plaintiff, who was born on December 17, 1948, applied for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423, and the Supplemental Security Income program ("SSI") of Title XVI of the Act, claiming an inability to work since August 12, 2006,*fn1 due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. A.R. 47-54, 60, 163-66. The plaintiff's applications were initially denied on August 23, 2007, and were denied again on January 24, 2008, following reconsideration. A.R. 31-35, 38-43. The plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Michael D. Radensky ("the ALJ") on April 29, 2009. A.R. 44, 167-92. On July 20, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff is not disabled. A.R. 7-15. The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, which denied review on September 25, 2009. A.R. 4-6, 26.

DISCUSSION

I.

The Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), has the authority to review the decision denying plaintiff disability benefits to determine if his findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner used the proper legal standards in reaching his decision. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009); Vernoff v. Astrue, 568 F.3d 1102, 1105 (9th Cir. 2009).

The claimant is "disabled" for the purpose of receiving benefits under the Act if she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to an impairment which has lasted, or is expected to last, for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a).

"The claimant bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability." Roberts v. Shalala, 66 F.3d 179, 182 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 517 U.S. 1122 (1996); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1289 (9th Cir. 1996).

The Commissioner has promulgated regulations establishing a five-step sequential evaluation process for the ALJ to follow in a disability case. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. In the First Step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If not, in the Second Step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting her from performing basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If so, in the Third Step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals the requirements of the Listing of Impairments ("Listing"), 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If not, in the Fourth Step, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has sufficient residual functional capacity despite the impairment or various limitations to perform her past work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If not, in Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant can perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).

Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date, and regarding plaintiff's Title II claim, the ALJ found plaintiff meets the insured status requirements through March 31, 2011. A.R. 12. (Step One). The ALJ then found plaintiff has the following severe impairments: "coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, GED [gastroesophageal reflux disease], and mild obesity" (Step Two); however, she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals a listed impairment. (Step Three). Finally, the ALJ determined plaintiff can perform her past relevant work as a telemarketer and group home manager; therefore, she is not disabled. (Step Four).

II.

A claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") is what she can still do despite her physical, mental, non-exertional, and other limitations. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 460 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Valentine v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009) (RFC is "a summary of what the claimant is capable of doing (for example, how much weight he can lift)."). Here, the ALJ found plaintiff has the RFC to perform the full range of light work.*fn2 A.R. 13. However, plaintiff contends the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because he erroneously determined she was not an entirely credible witness and failed to properly consider the opinions of her treating physician.

The plaintiff testified at the administrative hearing that she is unable to work due to cardiovascular disease, uncontrolled diabetes, and because she is weak ...


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