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Victor Medina v. Michael J. Astrue

January 13, 2011

VICTOR MEDINA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on January 19, 2010, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and social security income ("SSI"). On January 7, 2011, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).*fn1 The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on July 21, 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.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on November 27, 2007. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 110-20.) Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since February 17, 2005, due to bipolar disorder, asthma, and a torn anterior-cruciate ligament ("ACL") on his left knee.*fn2 (A.R. 110, 128.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as an assembler and laborer.*fn3 (A.R. 13.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 47-51, 55-60), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 62). On June 8, 2009, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Jesse J. Pease (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 16-42.) Vocational expert Troy L. Scott also testified. (Id.) On September 15, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 8-15), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). That decision is now at issue in this action

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 17, 2005, the alleged onset date of plaintiff's claimed disability. (A.R. 10.) The ALJ determined that: plaintiff's torn left ACL and bipolar disorder are severe impairments; and his hepatitis C, GERD, and history of asthma are "non-severe" impairments. (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. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). (A.R. 10-11.)

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. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). (A.R. 11.) Specifically, the ALJ determined that plaintiff can "stand for 2 hours of an 8-hour workday, frequently balance and stoop, and occasionally perform all other postural activities." (Id.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff "should avoid working around hazardous machines and at heights" and "[m]entally,[plaintiff] can perform simple repetitive tasks with no intense contact with others." (Id.)

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work. (A.R. 13.) However, having considered plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, as well as the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including those of parking lot attendant, electronics assembler, and sewing machine operator. (A.R. 14.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from February 17, 2005, through the date of his decision. (A.R. 8, 14-15.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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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