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Rebecca Blanquet v. Michael J. Astrue

January 24, 2011

REBECCA BLANQUET, 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 February 19, 2010, Rebecca Blanquet ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a Complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. On August 23, 2010, the Commissioner filed an Answer to the Complaint. On October 20, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their positions and the issues in dispute.

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

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on January 25, 1982, and was 22 years old on her alleged disability onset date of December 22, 2004. (AR 62.) Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits on February 28, 2005. (AR 62-64, 335.) Plaintiff claims she is disabled due to a traumatic brain injury, pituitary tumor, diabetes, and hypopituitarism. (AR 70.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since at least February 28, 2005. (AR 93, 335.)

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on August 3, 2005 (AR 31-35), and on reconsideration on November 1, 2005. (AR 39-43.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing on November 22, 2005. (AR 44.) Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing held on April 25, 2007, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John W. Belcher. (AR 278-326.) The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on September 14, 2007 (the "Prior Decision"). (AR 22-30.) After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (AR 4-6), Plaintiff appealed to this Court. On December 23, 2008, a United States Magistrate Judge issued an order vacating the Prior Decision and remanding for further administrative proceedings (the "Remand Order"). (AR 452-60.)

Following remand, a different ALJ, Jay Levine, held a hearing on July 8, 2009 (AR 880-911), and issued an unfavorable decision on November 27, 2009 (the "Post-Remand Decision"). (AR 333-43.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of post-operative craniopharyngioma, panhypopituitarism (controlled), obesity, type II diabetes, a mood disorder, and a cognitive disorder, but is capable of performing her past relevant work as an office clerk. (AR 335, 341-42.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act since the date her application was filed. (AR 343.) The Appeals Council did not review the ALJ's decision, which became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(d). Plaintiff then commenced the present action.

DISPUTED ISSUE

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, there is one disputed issue: whether the ALJ complied with the Remand Order to properly consider a State Agency physician's opinion. (JS at 3.)

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 free of legal error. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper legal standards).

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 quotation marks 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 of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 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 ...


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