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Arlene Ward v. Michael J. Astrue

March 23, 2011

ARLENE WARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Arlene Ward filed this action on June 22, 2009. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on July 13 and 23, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 7, 9.) On March 31, 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 reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 26, 2006, Ward filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Administrative Record ("AR") 9. In both applications, Ward alleged a disability onset date of May 26, 2005. Id. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 47-51, 53-58. Ward requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 61. On August 14, 2008, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Ward and a medical expert ("ME") testified. AR 19-34. On January 22, 2009, the ALJ conducted a supplemental hearing at which a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 35-42. On March 12, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 9-16. On March 16, 2009, Ward requested that the Appeals Council review the decision denying benefits. AR 4-5. On May 1, 2009, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-3. 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).

"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. When the /// evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such 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 Ward meets the insured status requirements through June 30, 2010. AR 11.

Ward has the severe physical impairments of degenerative disc disease and osteoporosis. Id. Ward has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work. AR 12-15. Ward "could lift and/or carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally. Out of an 8-hour period, the claimant could stand and/or walk for 2 hours and sit for 6 hours. She should avoid extreme wetness." AR 15. Ward "could bend, stoop, crouch, kneel and climb stairs ...


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