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Donna Fritz v. Commissioner of Social Security

February 7, 2011

DONNA FRITZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, who is proceeding with retained counsel, brings this action for judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to the written consent of all parties, this case is before the undersigned as the presiding judge for all purposes, including entry of final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 20) and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. 21). For the reasons discussed below, the court will deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment or remand and grant the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1

Plaintiff applied for social security benefits protectively on December 13, 2004 alleging an onset of disability on October 1, 2001 due to physical impairments. (Certified Administrative Record "CAR" 87-89.) Specifically, plaintiff claims disability based on impairments due to tendon problems in both hands, arthritis and neck and leg problems. (CAR 118-119.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held telephonically on September 15, 2006, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Peter F. Belli. (CAR 494-529.) In a March 23, 2007 decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled.*fn2 (CAR 40-46.) Plaintiff requested the

Appeals Council review the decision and on September 20, 2007, the Appeals Council remanded the case for a new hearing. (CAR 58-61.) Supplemental telephonic hearings were held before ALJ Stanley R. Hogg on December 17, 2007 and April 30, 2009, at which plaintiff, a vocational expert, and a consulting physician testified. (CAR 530-566, 567-589.) In a May 29, 2009 decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled based on the following findings:

1. The claimant met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act though December 31, 2006.

2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of October 1, 2001 through her date last insured of December 31, 2006 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).

3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: bilateral upper extremity DeQuervain's disease, possible carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, early degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, minimal degenerative joint disease of the left knee, diabetes, and obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).

4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1525 and 404.1526).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work*fn3 as defined in 20 Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995).

The claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5. The Commissioner bears the burden if the sequential evaluation process proceeds to step five. Id. CFR 404.1567(b) except she can perform frequent but not constant reaching, handling, and fingering. She is precluded from forceful gripping, grasping, or torqueing. She can occasionally, but not frequently reach at or about shoulder level. She cannot engage in repetitive motions with her wrists. She can frequently balance. She should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and should not work at heights. She can occasionally climb stairs and ramps. She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, squat, or crawl.

6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).

7. The claimant was born on September 17, 1954 and was a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category and was an individual closely approaching ...


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