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Alfonso Ornelas v. Michael J. Astrue

January 6, 2011

ALFONSO ORNELAS, 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 REVERSING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

PROCEEDINGS

On September 25, 2009, Alfonso Ornelas ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant" or "Ornelas") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's applications for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on March 30, 2010. On June 29, 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 reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accordance with law and with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 44 year old male who was found to have the medically determinable severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and a psychotic disorder. (AR 23.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 27, 2006, the alleged onset date. (AR 23.)

Plaintiff's claim for SSDI and SSI benefits was denied initially October 5, 2007. (AR 21.) Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") David G. Marcus on October 1, 2008, in Downey, California. (AR 21.) Claimant appeared and testified with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter. (AR 21.) Vocational expert Stephen Berry also appeared and testified. (AR 21.)

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 3, 2008. (AR 21-29.) The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn1 to perform light level exertion work, but could not perform his previous work as a drywall installer or a cutting machine tender. (AR 27-28.) The ALJ, however, did find that the Claimant could perform other work in the national economy, including small products assembler, cleaner/ housekeeper, and final inspector. (AR 28.) Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (AR 29.)

The Appeals Council denied review on August 10, 2009. (AR 1-6.) Also on August 10, 2009, the Appeals Council received additional evidence (AR 467-510), which it made part of the record. (AR 4.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

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

1. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated the opinion of treating physician Ana Pantoja, M.D.

2. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated medical evidence of Ornelas' mental impairment.

3. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Ornelas' testimony.

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 ...


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