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Deborah Ann Debenedetti v. Michael J. Astrue

March 24, 2011

DEBORAH ANN DEBENEDETTI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION; ORDER

The Court now rules as follows with respect to the disputed issues listed in*fn1the Joint Stipulation ("JS").*fn2

I. DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the disputed issues which Plaintiff raises as the grounds for reversal and/or remand are as follows:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly considered the opinions of the medical expert, the vocational expert ("VE"), and the Agency reviewing physician; and

2. Whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's testimony and the lay witness statement. (JS at 3.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" but less than a preponderance. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 575-76 (9th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (citation omitted). The Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 529-30 (9th Cir. 1986). Where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1984).

III. DISCUSSION

A. The ALJ's Findings.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff's date last insured was June 30, 2004. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 15.) The ALJ concluded that prior to June 30, 2004, Plaintiff had the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus type II, systemic lupus erythematosus, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, possible right carpal tunnel syndrome, right shoulder repetitive trauma injury, right knee arthritis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and morbid obesity. (Id. at 15.) He found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with the following limitations: standing only two hours in an eight-hour workday, no climbing ladders, no work at unprotected heights, no forceful gripping/grasping/ twisting with the right hand, occasional fine manipulation with the right hand, occasional neck motion with no extremes of motion, no work above shoulder level on the right, and Plaintiff's head should be held in a comfortable position most of the time with her head in a fixed position for fifteen to thirty minutes occasionally. (Id. at 17.) The ALJ concluded that, prior to Plaintiff's date last insured, Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work, but could perform alternative work as a security guard. (Id.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to the date last insured. (Id.)

B. The ALJ Properly Considered the Testimony of the Medical Expert, the VE, and the Agency Physician.

1. Medical Expert's Testimony.

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly consider the testimony of the medical expert, Samuel Landau, M.D. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ misinterpreted the medical expert's conclusions regarding the date on which Plaintiff met Listing 1.02. In addition, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in rejecting the medical expert's conclusion that Plaintiff needed an air-conditioned work environment. (JS at 4-6.)

a. Material Misrepresentation Regarding Date Plaintiff Met Listing 1.02.

At Plaintiff's hearing before the ALJ, Dr. Landau offered medical expert testimony. Dr. Landau testified that Plaintiff suffers from morbid obesity with Type II diabetes mellitus, systemic lupus erythematosus without significant organ involvement, degenerative disc disease of the neck, possible right carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive trauma injuries to the right shoulder, right knee arthritis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis with preserved thyroid function, fibromyalgia syndrome, and psychiatric diagnoses. (AR at 32.) Dr. Landau testified that, due to Plaintiff's morbid obesity, her impairments are equivalent to Listing 1.02 for arthritis of a major weight bearing joint. However, Dr. Landau clarified that Plaintiff only equaled the Listing as of December 18, 2007, the date on which an MRI revealed Plaintiff's knee ...


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