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Laverne Lester v. Michael J. Astrue

December 21, 2010

LAVERNE LESTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY PROCEEDINGS

On November 5, 2009, Laverne Lester ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on May 7, 2010. On July 12, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS"). The matter is now ready for decision.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before the Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed and the case dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 50 year old female who was found to have the medically determinable severe combination of impairments of degenerative changes and tears of the right knee, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, bunion deformity, metatarsal osteotomy, minimal cervical spine disc bulges, mild to moderate degenerative changes in the lumbar spine, history of hepatitis C, and depressive disorder. (AR 15.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 5, 2006, the alleged onset date. (AR 15.)

Plaintiff's claim for SSDI benefits was denied initially on June 6, 2007, and on reconsideration on August 27, 2007. (AR 13.) Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joel B. Martinez on January 26, 2009, in Pasadena, California. (AR 13.) Claimant appeared and testified, and was represented by counsel. (AR 13.) A vocational expert also testified. (AR 13.)

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 29, 2009. (AR 13-27.) Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision which the Appeals Council denied on October 6, 2009. (AR 1-3.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, Plaintiff raises the following disputed issues as grounds for reversal:

1. Whether the ALJ properly considered the treating physician's opinion regarding Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity and properly recontacted the treating physician.

2. Whether the ALJ fully and fairly developed the record.

3. Whether the ALJ posed a complete hypothetical question to the vocational expert. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "'more than a mere scintilla'. . . but less than a preponderance."

Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r, 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION

The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The ...


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