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Kristen Teeters v. Michael J. Astrue

March 28, 2011



This case was submitted to the court without oral argument for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and/or remand and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is denied, defendant's motion is granted, and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) is affirmed.


On November 21, 2006, while residing in Nevada, plaintiff protectively filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act, alleging disability beginning April 15, 2006. (Transcript (Tr.) at 71-72, 130-42.) Plaintiff alleged that she suffered from bipolar disorder and explained that mood swings made it difficult for her to deal with people and keep a job. (Tr. at 147.) Plaintiff's DIB and SSI applications were denied initially on April 30, 2007, and upon reconsideration on January 10, 2008. (Tr. at 80-83, 84, 88-90.) On March 5, 2008, plaintiff appointed a Las Vegas law firm to represent her and submitted a request for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. at 91 & 97-98.) On May 6, 2008, plaintiff's Nevada counsel withdrew as her representatives because plaintiff had relocated to California. (Tr. at 93.) At the administrative hearing conducted on December 8, 2008 in Stockton, California, plaintiff appeared on her own behalf and declined the ALJ's offer to postpone the hearing so that plaintiff could seek representation by new counsel or a non-attorney representative. (Tr. at 40-41.) Plaintiff and her sister-in-law, Penelope Teeters, testified at the administrative hearing, as did a vocational expert. (Tr. at 37-70.) In a decision dated May 26, 2009, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled from April 15, 2006 through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 29-36.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 15, 2006, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: depression, anxiety, personality disorder, and status post back surgery (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).

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, 416.925 and 416.926).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) as follows: could sit/stand/walk 6 out of 8 hours each with normal breaks; lift and/or carry a maximum of 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; could occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl but could never work around hazards; and, can work at jobs involving simple routine tasks with occasional public contact.

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

7. The claimant was born on July 12, 1954 and was 51 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, 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 using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "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 April 15, 2006 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)). (Tr. at 31-35.)

On June 2, 2009, plaintiff appointed present counsel to represent her, and counsel submitted a request for review of the ALJ's hearing decision on that date. (Tr. at 18 & 24.) On September 12, 2009, the Appeals Council denied the request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. at 1-4.) Plaintiff sought judicial review ...

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