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Lajuana Cheri Mathews v. Michael J. Astrue

March 22, 2011

LAJUANA CHERI MATHEWS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows U.S. Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied, the Commissioner's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment is granted, and the Clerk is directed to enter judgment for the Commissioner.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, born October 24, 1975, applied on May 24, 2007 for disability benefits. (Tr. at 84.) Plaintiff alleged she was unable to work due to chronic muscuskeletal system disorder, which caused joint stiffness and problems with walking, sitting and standing; and schizophrenia. (Tr. at 97.) In a decision dated January 22, 2009, ALJ Mark C. Ramsey determined that plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ made the following findings:*fn1

1. The claimant met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2007.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 22, 2002, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, right hip bursitis, schizophrenia and depression (20 CFR 404.1521 et seq. and 416.921 et seq.).

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1525, 404.1526, 404.925 and 416.926).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform unskilled, light work with some postural limitations as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(b). Light work includes lifting no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; standing and walking up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day and sitting up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day. Unskilled work involves little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time. This is in contrast to semi-skilled work which may required alertness, close attention, or coordination and dexterity to do repetitive tasks quickly (Social Security Ruling 83-10). In additional unskilled jobs ordinarily involve dealing primarily with objects, rather than with data or people (Social Security Ruling 85-15). The claimant could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs and never climb ladders, rope or scaffolds. She could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards.

6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work. (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).*fn2

7. The claimant was born on October 24, 1975 and was 27 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).

8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).

9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because applying the Medical-Vocational Rules directly supports a finding of "not disabled," whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).

10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform. (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569a, 416.969, and 416.969a.)

11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 22, 2002 through the date of this decision. (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)). (Tr. at 16-23.)

ISSUES PRESENTED

Plaintiff has raised the following issues: A. Whether the ALJ Properly Rejected the Examining Opinion of Dr. Lee and the Mental Limitations Assessed by the DDS Physicians; B. Whether the ALJ Failed to Properly Credit Plaintiff's Testimony Regarding Plaintiff's Functional Limitations; C. Whether the ALJ Failed to Properly Assess Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity and Erred in Utilizing the Grids and Failing to Secure the Testimony of a Vocational Expert.

LEGAL STANDARDS

The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir.1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

ANALYSIS

A. Whether the ALJ Properly Rejected Medical Opinions by Dr. Lee and DDS

1. Dr. Lee's Opinion

Plaintiff claims that the ALJ failed to credit the opinion of Dr. Lee, a one-time examining physician, that plaintiff could sit for six hours, "allowing breaks every hour for change of posture[.]" (Tr. at 285.) As to this finding of Dr. Lee's, the ALJ stated: "There is nothing in the record to support this. The undersigned rejects the opinion of the need for postural breaks every hour." (Tr. at 21.) Plaintiff also alleges that the ALJ mischaracterized certain of Dr. Lee's findings (see fns. 5,6); however, the undersigned finds the ALJ to have summarized Dr. Lee's report with reasonable accuracy, rejecting only ...


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