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Patricia A. Freeman v. Michael J. Astrue

March 30, 2011

PATRICIA A. FREEMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, ORDER COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



This social security action was submitted to the court, without oral argument, for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and remand. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and remand is denied and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) is affirmed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On December 5, 2006, plaintiff protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Transcript (Tr.) at 11, 81-83.) The application was denied initially on August 6, 2007, and upon reconsideration on November 27, 2007. (Tr. at 57-60, 62-65.) Plaintiff submitted a timely request for a hearing on the denials. (Tr. at 67-68.) At the administrative hearing held on October 15, 2008, plaintiff was unrepresented and testified.*fn1 (Tr. at 22-51.) Charnae Taylor, a lay witness for plaintiff, and Susan Miranda, an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the administrative hearing. (Tr. at 23.) In a decision issued on March 12, 2009, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability from the alleged onset date of September 29, 2006 through the date of the decision. (Tr. at 11-21.) 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 September 29, 2006, the alleged onset date. (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.)

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, diabetes mellitus, hepatitis C, and depression (20 CFR 404.1521 et seq.)

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 (CFR 404.1525 and 404.1526).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). She is able lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently, sit 6 hours, and stand and walk in combination for 6 hours, out of an 8-hour workday. She is limited to work requiring occasional bending, stooping, twisting, squatting, kneeling and climbing stairs or ramps, but is unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She is precluded from working around heights or hazardous, moving machinery. The claimant is limited to work involving simple, repetitive tasks.

6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).*fn2

7. The claimant was born on November 7, 1957 and was 48 years old, which is defined as a "younger individual age 18-49," on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to "closely approaching advanced age" (20 CFR 404.1563).

8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English.

9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work.

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 and 404.1569a).

11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 29, 2006 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).

(Tr. 13-21.)

On June 26, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 1-4.) On August 20, 2009, plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence and the proper legal standards were applied. Schneider v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 2000); Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. See Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Morgan, 169 F.3d at 599; Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

A reviewing court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. See Jones, 760 F.2d at 995. The court may not affirm the ALJ's decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Id.; see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a finding of either disability or non-disability, the finding of the ALJ is conclusive, see Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987), and may be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied in weighing the evidence, see Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).

In determining whether or not a claimant is disabled, the ALJ should apply the five-step sequential evaluation process established under the Social Security regulations. Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 404.1520, sets forth the test used to assess disability. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The five-step process can be summarized as follows:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.

Step two: Does the claimant have a "severe" impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding of not disabled is appropriate.

Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is conclusively presumed disabled. If not, proceed to step four.

Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. ...


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