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Russell Thomas v. Michael J. Astrue

March 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lucy H. Koh United States District Judge

United States District Court For the Northern District of California


Plaintiff Russell Thomas ("Plaintiff") brings this action to obtain review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner's final decision denying his claim for disability benefits.

Plaintiff seeks an order reversing the final decision of the Commissioner and awarding benefits, or alternatively remanding for a new hearing. Presently before the Court are the parties' cross- motions for summary judgment. Having considered the parties' papers and the administrative record, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [dkt. #13] and GRANTS Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment [dkt. #17].


A. Plaintiff's Age and Educational, Vocational, and Medical History

Plaintiff was born in 1971, and was thirty-six years old on the alleged amended disability onset date of June 12, 2007. Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") 104-05. Plaintiff has completed high school, and completed vocational school in computers. Tr. 142-43. In addition, as of March 2008, Plaintiff reported taking classes in web page and graphic design. Tr. 290. The record documents that Plaintiff has held a series of jobs, including warehouse shipping and receiving, warehouse stocking, and customer service between 1990 and October 2006. Tr. 138. Plaintiff has not worked since his incarceration, based on a domestic violence conviction, from October 28, 2006 through March 2007. Tr. 229, 231. Prior to his incarceration, Plaintiff had a full time job as 12 a customer service employee. Tr. 138.

In an October 29, 2006 initial inmate "Crisis Assessment" evaluation, Plaintiff reported having mood swings and depression, and reported a history of methamphetamine use. Tr. 235. In a July 2007 comprehensive psychiatric evaluation, Plaintiff reported having a longstanding history of methamphetamine abuse and heavy alcohol abuse. Tr. 250. In that July 2007 evaluation, Dr. Phyllis Thurstone diagnosed Plaintiff has having a "history of bipolar II disorder," and being "primarily depressed." Tr. 251. In an August 2007 mental residual functional capacity assessment,

SSA medical consultant Dr. M.J. Krelstein determined that Plaintiff was not significantly limited, 21 22 but did have moderate limitations in his ability to understand and carry out instructions, and in his 23 ability to interact with the general public. Tr. 264-66. Finally, in a February 2008 questionnaire 24 completed at the request of Plaintiff's attorney, Dr. Susan Harris reported that Plaintiff was being 25 treated with "Abilify" as an antipsychotic and mood stabilizing medication, and that Plaintiff's 26 prognosis was "fairly good for slow recovery." Tr. 276.

B. Procedural History alleged a disability onset date of October 28, 2006 due to depression and bipolar disorder. See Tr. 104-112, 137. In his application, Plaintiff represented that he worked from 1990 to 2006, but had not worked since his incarceration from October 28, 2006 to March 28, 2007. Tr. at 105. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied this application, finding that, despite Plaintiff's depression and anxiety at times, Plaintiff could still "think, communicate, and act in [his] own interest." Tr. at 60. The SSA also denied Plaintiff's application for reconsideration. Tr. at 69.

Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), and also requested an On May 22, 2007, Plaintiff completed an application for disability benefits. Plaintiff amended disability onset date of June 12, 2007. Tr. 75, 209.

own behalf. Tr. at 21-44. The ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff did suffer from depression (a "severe impairment" under Social Security disability regulations). Tr. at 11-20.

Social Security Act because his impairment "has not lasted or is not expected to last for a 18 continuous period of twelve months." Tr. at 14. The ALJ's decision became final when the SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. at 1-3. 20

The ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified on his However, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim on the ground that Plaintiff was not "disabled" under the Plaintiff brought suit in this Court seeking judicial review of the ALJ decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment.


A.Standard for Reviewing the ALJ Decision

The Court has authority to review the ALJ decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court may only disturb the ALJ decision if it is unsupported by substantial evidence in the record 27 as a whole or if it is not an application of the proper legal standard. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Vertigan v. Halter, 260 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 2001). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If the evidence supports more than one rational interpretation, the Court must uphold the ALJ's conclusion. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or ...

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