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Sammy S. Guzman v. Michael J. Astrue

April 18, 2011

SAMMY S. GUZMAN, 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

Sammy Guzman ("Guzman") filed this action on December 26, 2008. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on January 16 and February 23, 2009. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.) On October 1, 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 December 22, 2004, Guzman filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of June 4, 1993. Administrative Record ("AR") 90-103. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 51-55, 58-63. Guzman requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 64. On August 2, 2006, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Guzman and a vocational expert testified. AR 310-47. On October 24, 2006, the ALJ conducted a supplemental hearing at which Guzman, a vocational expert and a medical expert testified. AR 348-60. On November 17, 2006, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 11-20. On December 8, 2006, Guzman requested that the Appeals Council review the decision denying benefits. AR 7. On July 3, 2007, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 4-6. On August 27, 2007, Guzman filed a complaint in this Court. On March 24, 2008, both parties stipulated to a voluntary remand. AR 384-85. On March 25, 2008, this Court issued a remand order. AR 381-83. On May 2, 2008, pursuant to the remand order, the Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. AR 379-80.

On August 12, 2008, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Guzman gave further testimony. AR 557-64. On October 7, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 364-76. 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).

"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. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such 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 Guzman had the severe impairments of left eye blindness and degenerative disc disease of the back. AR 367. Guzman had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a range of light work consisting of the following: "lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for 2 hours out of an 8-hour work day; sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour work day; no climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and no work that requires fine vision due to left eye blindness." AR 368.

Guzman has no past relevant work but "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform," such as assembler, cafeteria attendant, buttons/notions assembler, optical assembler and agricultural sorter. AR 374-75.

C. Mental Impairment

Petitioner argues that at step two of the sequential analysis the ALJ improperly determined that his mental impairment of ...


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