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Marie Roberson v. Michael J. Astrue

February 22, 2011

MARIE ROBERSON, 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 26, 2010, Marie Roberson ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a Complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. On September 23, 2010, the Commissioner filed an Answer to the Complaint. On November 29, 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 March 28, 1945, and was 52 years old on her alleged disability onset date of April 17, 1997. (AR 50.) Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on January 26, 2004, claiming she was disabled due to arthritis and bursitis. (AR 50-52, 86.)

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on May 10, 2004 (AR 40-44), and on reconsideration on November 23, 2005. (AR 34-38.) After filing a timely request for a hearing (AR 31), Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") F. Keith Varni on August 21, 2007. (AR 364-75.) The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on October 10, 2007 (the "Prior Decision"). (AR 8-15.) After the Appeals council denied Plaintiff's request for review (AR 2-4), Plaintiff appealed to this Court. On January 20, 2009, a United States Magistrate Judge issued an order vacating the Prior Decision and remanding for further proceedings (the "Remand Order"). (AR 407-15.)

Following remand, the ALJ held a hearing on October 19, 2009 (AR 683-99), and issued an unfavorable decision on December 9, 2009 (the "Post-Remand Decision"). (AR 379-87.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had a "severe medically determinable impairment of the musculoskeletal system" during the period from her alleged onset date of April 17, 1997, through her date last insured of December 31, 2002, but she was nonetheless capable of performing her past relevant work as a school security advisor and account assistant clerk. (AR 382, 386.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. (AR 387.) 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 ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, there are four disputed issues:

1. Whether the ALJ complied with the Remand Order's requirement to consider properly the demands of Plaintiff's past relevant work;

2. Whether the ALJ made proper findings regarding Plaintiff's ability to handle objects and to perform work-related tasks with her right upper extremity;

3. Whether the ALJ properly considered the severity of Plaintiff's alleged mental impairment and properly rated her mental functional limitations; and

4. Whether the ALJ properly considered the opinion of Dr. Hamid Rahman. (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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