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Valerie Ledesma v. Michael J. Astrue

April 8, 2011

VALERIE LEDESMA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on March 12, 2010, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and social security income ("SSI"). On April 12, 2010, the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on November 29, 2010, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; and defendant requests that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 115-16.) Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since March 26, 2008, due to manic depression and chronic lumbar spine damage. (A.R. 77, 127, 131.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a housekeeping cleaner and material handler.*fn1 (A.R. 18.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially (A.R. 77-81), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 84-85). On July 9, 2009, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Robert S. Eisman (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 26-72.) Vocational expert Freeman Leeth also testified. (A.R. 58-69.) On August 7, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 13-20), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). That decision is now at issue in this action

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 26, 2008, the alleged onset date of plaintiff's claimed disability. (A.R. 15.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: lower back pain, neck and left upper extremity pain, major depressive disorder with psychotic features, polysubstance dependence in partial remission, and obesity. (Id.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals in severity any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.925, and 416.926). (Id.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") for: medium work . . . , in that [plaintiff] can exert 20 to 50 pounds of force occasionally and/or 10 to 20 pounds of force frequently and/or greater than negligible up to 10 pounds of force constantly to move objects. . . . [Plaintiff] cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but can frequently climb ramps or stairs. She can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl . . . and can frequently reach and lift with her left upper extremity. She must avoid concentrated exposure to environmental irritants and poorly ventilated areas. [Plaintiff] must avoid all concentrated exposure to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, or other high risk, hazardous, or unsafe conditions. [Plaintiff] can perform work that is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. (A.R. 15-16.)

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's past relevant work as a housekeeping cleaner did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by plaintiff's RFC. (A.R. 18.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act through the date of his decision. (A.R. 19.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). "While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those 'reasonably drawn from the record' will suffice." Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" ...


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