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Robert A. Brandt v. Michael J. Astrue

February 23, 2011

ROBERT A. BRANDT,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alicia G. Rosenberg United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Robert A. Brandt ("Brandt") filed a Complaint on May 11, 2007. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties filed Consents to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on May 15 and 21, 2007. (Dkt. Nos. 3, 6.) On May 18, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner. /// /// /// /// ///

I.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND On April 13, 2004, Brandt filed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging an onset date of July 1, 2000. Administrative Record ("AR") 52-54. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 39-43, 45-49. Brandt requested a hearing. AR 50. On January 18, 2006, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing at which Brandt and a Vocational Expert ("VE") testified. AR 229. On July 28, 2006, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 191-96. On August 29, 2006, Brandt requested that the Appeals Council review the decision denying benefits. AR 225. On April 14, 2007, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 219-21. Brandt filed this action on May 11, 2007. (Dkt. No. 8.) On October 29, 2007, the parties stipulated, with Court approval, to remand the case for a de novo hearing because of an incomplete administrative record. AR 202-04. On December 10, 2007, the Appeals Council vacated the final decision of the Commissioner and remanded the case to an ALJ for a de novo hearing. AR 205. On October 2, 2008, the ALJ conducted a de novo hearing at which Brandt and a VE testified. AR 370-90. On February 19, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 21-27. On March 10, 2009, Brandt requested that the Appeals Council review the decision denying benefits. AR 13, 16. On September 3, 2009, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 6-7. On November 24, 2009, the parties stipulated, with Court approval, to reopen this case. (Dkt. Nos. 16, 17.) This action followed.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence, or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

In this context, "substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance -- it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523. In determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III.

DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled and is eligible for benefits, "only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22, 124 S. Ct. 376, 157 L. Ed. 2d 333 (2003).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Brandt meets the insured status requirements through December 31, 2005. AR 25. Brandt has the following medically determinable severe impairments: degenerative joint disease, tobacco abuse and alcohol abuse. Id. Brandt has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform light work . . . that is, lifting and carrying 50 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently, standing/walking 6 hours out of 8, unrestricted sitting and no postural, manipulative, communicative or environmental limitations." ...


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