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Richard Guerra v. Michael J. Astrue

December 7, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff filed a Complaint on December 22, 2009, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for social security income ("SSI"). On March 2, 2010, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on August 16, 2010, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; and defendant requests that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.


Plaintiff filed an application for a period of SSI on March 19, 2008.*fn1 (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 98-100.) Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since February 27, 2008,*fn2 due to back injury and bipolar disorder. (A.R. 103, 108.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a telephone solicitor, landscape laborer, fast food cook, golf cart attendant, greenskeeper, and egg processor. (A.R. 13, 109.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 46-51, 54-59), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 60). On July 28, 2009, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Michael D. Radensky ("ALJ"). (A.R. 15-43.) Vocational expert David Reinhart also testified. (A.R. 38-39, 41-42.) On September 23, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 8-14), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-4). That decision is now at issue in this action


The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 27, 2008, the alleged onset date of plaintiff's claimed disability. (A.R. 10.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: status post lumbar surgery, history of spinal meningitis, and anxiety. (Id.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals in severity any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). (A.R. 496.) Additionally, the ALJ found that plaintiff's pain allegations were not entirely credible. (A.R. 13.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b). (A.R. 11.) In pertinent part, the ALJ determined that "[n]on-exertionally, [plaintiff] is able to perform work in a non-public setting and [plaintiff] should avoid intense interpersonal interactions with co-workers, supervisors, and members of the public." (Id.)

Based on plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as an egg processor. (A.R. 13.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act since February 27, 2008. (A.R. 14.)


Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). "While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those 'reasonably drawn from the record' will suffice." Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" ...

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