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Haamid v. Astrue

November 22, 2010

MURAD HAAMID, 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 Murad Haamid filed a complaint on May 18, 2010, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision denying his application for disability benefits. On October 1, 2010, the Commissioner filed an answer to the complaint, and the parties filed a joint stipulation on November 16, 2010.

BACKGROUND

On July 28, 2008, plaintiff, who was born on December 14, 1950, applied for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 423, claiming an inability to work since January 1, 2008, due to anxiety, hepatitis C and degenerative disc disease.*fn1 A.R. 74-76, 104. The plaintiff's application was initially denied on September 26, 2008, and was denied again on November 7, 2008, following reconsideration. A.R. 40-50. The plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Sharilyn Hopson ("the ALJ") on December 17, 2009. A.R. 16-37, 52. On January 22, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff is not disabled. A.R. 6-15. The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, which denied review on March 24, 2010. A.R. 1-5.

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). "In determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, [this Court] must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Holohan v. Massanari, 246 F.3d 1195, 1201 (9th Cir. 2001). "Where the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the decision, [this Court] may not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner." Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1141 (2008); Vasquez, 572 F.3d at 591.

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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(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. 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). 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). 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). 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). 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).

Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2008, his alleged onset date. (Step One). The ALJ then found plaintiff has the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and hepatitis C" (Step Two); however, plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals a listed impairment. (Step Three). Finally, the ALJ determined plaintiff is able to perform his past relevant work as a warehouse worker, bus driver, and housekeeper; therefore, he is not disabled. (Step Four).

II.

A claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") is what he can still do despite his 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 medium work.*fn2 A.R. 12. However, the plaintiff contends the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ erroneously rejected the opinions of John Byrne, D.O., plaintiff's treating physician,*fn3 and failed to properly consider a statement by Vandellian Pearson, plaintiff's wife.

A. Treating Physician's Opinion

Since at least 2001, plaintiff has received medical treatment at the Loma Linda Veterans' Administration Medical Center ("VA") for a variety of conditions, including allergies, hepatitis C, alcohol abuse, hypercholesterolemia, ankle and foot pain, degenerative disc disease and anxiety. A.R. 143-93, 229-78, 292. On May 18, 2005, plaintiff underwent a lumbar spine MRI, which showed a narrowed disc space, sclerosis and ...


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