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Jack v. Astrue

November 22, 2010

DAVID A. JACK, 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 David A. Jack filed a complaint on October 20, 2009, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying his applications for disability benefits. On March 23, 2010, the Commissioner filed an answer to the complaint, and the parties filed a joint stipulation on May 18, 2010.

BACKGROUND

On August 18, 2004, plaintiff, who was born on June 24, 1969, 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 January 18, 2001, due to bipolar disorder, depression, attention deficit disorder and a left wrist injury. A.R. 19, 133-34, 155. The plaintiff's applications were initially denied on November 22, 2004, and were denied again on March 16, 2005, following reconsideration.

A.R. 102-13. The plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Dale A. Garwal ("the ALJ") on August 3, 2006. A.R. 51-69, 115-16. On January 10, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff is not disabled. A.R. 91-101. The plaintiff sought review from the Appeals Council, which granted plaintiff's request and remanded the matter to the ALJ for further proceedings. A.R. 44-47, 128-30.

Following remand, the ALJ held another administrative hearing, A.R. 70-86, and on July 6, 2009, the ALJ issued a new decision again finding plaintiff is not disabled. A.R. 16-30. The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, which denied review on September 21, 2009. A.R. 7-15.

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 he 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 him 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 his 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).

Moreover, where there is evidence of a mental impairment that may prevent a claimant from working, the Commissioner has supplemented the five-step sequential evaluation process with additional regulations addressing mental impairments.*fn1 Maier v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 154 F.3d 913, 914-15 (9th Cir. 1998) (per curiam).

Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 18, 2001, his alleged onset date. (Step One). The ALJ then found plaintiff has the severe impairments of "affective disorder, personality disorder, and mood disorder" (Step Two); however, plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals a listed impairment. (Step Three). The ALJ next determined plaintiff is not able to perform his past relevant work.

(Step Four). Finally, the ALJ concluded plaintiff is able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy; ...


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