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Todd E. James v. Michael J. Astrue

February 25, 2011

TODD E. JAMES
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. Woehrle United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the denial of disability benefits. The court finds that judgment should be granted in favor of defendant, affirming the Commissioner's decision.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Todd James was born on March 15, 1961, and was forty-eight years old at the time of his administrative hearing. [AR 20, 71.] He has at least a tenth grade education and no past relevant work experience. [AR 12, 27.] Plaintiff alleges disability on the basis of back pain and depression. [AR 34.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff's complaint was lodged on January 4, 2010, and filed on January 6, 2010. On July 20, 2010, Defendant filed an Answer and Plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On November 18, 2010, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On February 5, 2008, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on November 1, 2003. [AR 10.] After the claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. [Id.] A video hearing was held on April 2, 2009, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [Id.] Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing, and testimony was taken from Plaintiff and vocational expert Alan E. Cummings, Ph.D. [Id.] The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on May 12, 2009. [AR16.] When the Appeals Council denied review on November 5, 2009, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 1.]

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's (or ALJ's) findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. However, if the court determines that a finding is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the finding and set aside the decision to deny benefits. See Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v.Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001); Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995)(per curiam). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. It is "relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must review the administrative record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-721; see also Osenbrock, 240 F.3d at 1162.

V. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

To be eligible for disability benefits a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable impairment which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity and which is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Tackett, ...


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