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Darrell Walter v. Michael J. Astrue

March 30, 2011

DARRELL WALTER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alicia G. Rosenberg United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Darrell Walter ("Walter") filed a Complaint on March 23, 2010. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties filed Consents to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on April 7 and 9, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.) On November 23, 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 affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 26, 2006, Walter filed an application for disability insurance benefits. Administrative Record ("AR") 55. On April 3, 2006, Walter filed an application for supplemental security income. AR 54. In both applications, he alleged a disability onset date of November 15, 2005. AR 8. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. Walter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 72. At the hearing on February 14, 2008, the ALJ continued the hearing to allow Walter to complete drug rehabilitation, to be consistently sober for six months, and to obtain a post-rehabilitation psychological assessment. AR 23-29. At the supplemental hearing on November 18, 2008, the ALJ continued the hearing to allow Walter to receive outstanding medical records. AR 30-36. On February 10, 2009, the ALJ conducted the second supplemental hearing at which Walter, a medical expert and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 37-53. On March 23, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 5-19. On January 22, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Walter's 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).

In this context, "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. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled and is eligible for 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 Walter has the severe impairment of depressive disorder, not otherwise specified. AR 10. He has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: moderately complex tasks consisting of 4-5 steps; object oriented tasks; habituated tasks; no intense interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public; no responsibility for the safety of others; no work at heights, with hazardous machinery, or hazardous ...


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