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Angelanette Edwards v. Michael J. Astrue

December 17, 2010

ANGELANETTE EDWARDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marc L. Goldman United States Magistrate Judge

"O"

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Angelanette Edwards seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and the matter REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Facts and Procedural Background

Plaintiff was born on February 5, 1962. She has an eleventh grade education and has work experience as an in-home care giver. (Administrative Record ("AR") 18, 40, 98, 149.) Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits on June 14, 2006, alleging disability as of December 30, 2003, due to diabetes mellitus, disorders of the muscle, ligament and fascia, and depression. (AR 40, 93.)

Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 42-46, 51-54.) An administrative hearing was held June 16, 2008, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") James D. Goodman. Plaintiff, represented by attorney Bill LaTour, testified at the administrative hearing. (AR 21-39.)

ALJ Goodman issued an unfavorable decision on August 21, 2008. (AR 9-18.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: history of diabetes, right shoulder pain, obesity, depressive disorder not otherwise specified, and cocaine abuse in remission. (AR 12.) Plaintiff's impairments were deemed not to meet the requirements of a listed impairment found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to "perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(c) except that she can frequently climb, balance, kneel, crouch, crawl and stoop, and she can frequently do handling, grasping, and fingering as well as above-the-shoulder lifting, pushing and pulling. In the mental realm, the claimant can perform simple, routine, and repetitive work." (AR 14.) The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as an in-home care giver. (AR 18.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. (Id.)

The Appeals Council denied review on April 27, 2010. (AR 1-3.) Plaintiff commenced this action on June 4, 2010, and on December 7, 2010, the parties filed a joint stipulation ("Joint Stip.") of disputed facts and issues. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by failing to fully consider the opinions of (1) State Agency physician M. Sohn, M.D., (2) psychiatric consultative examiner Ernest A. Bagner III, M.D., and (3) State Agency physician P. M. Balson, M.D.; and (4) that the ALJ erred in his Step Four finding that Plaintiff could perform her past work as a care-giver. (Joint Stip. 2-3.) Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse and order an award of benefits or, in the alternative, to remand for further proceedings. (Joint Stip. 14-15.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. (Joint Stip. 15.)

After reviewing the parties' respective contentions and the record as a whole, the Court concludes that the ALJ erred in finding, at Step Four of the sequential evaluation, that Plaintiff could perform the job of Home Attendant, which requires a reasoning Level 3, given her limitation to simple, repetitive tasks. Accordingly, the matter shall be remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

II. Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's decision must be upheld unless "the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094 (9th Cir. 1999); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)(citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing 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. 1996). "If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion," the court "may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882.

III. Discussion

A. The ALJ Properly Considered the Opinion of State Agency Physician Dr. Sohn

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by failing to consider a portion of the September 15, 2006, opinion of State Agency physician M. Sohn, M.D. (Joint Stip. 3.) More specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to address a supposed inconsistency between Dr. Sohn's opinion and the medical opinion of ...


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