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Maria Rosa Ruiz v. Michael J. Astrue

April 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Dana M. Sabraw United States District Judge


Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for reversal and/or remand and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.


On April 29, 2008, Plaintiff Maria Rosa Ruiz applied for disability benefits under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), alleging disability beginning September 27, 2005. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 14, 33.) The Social Security Administration denied the application initially and on reconsideration. (Id. at 14, 62-66, 72-76.) Plaintiff subsequently requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which took place on December 7, 2009. (Id. at 14, 31, 77.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing before the ALJ, at which a medical expert and a vocational expert testified. (Id. at 14, 33.) At the hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff was not sworn in and did not testify, although she provided some information in Spanish, which was translated by her attorney. The ALJ issued an opinion in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id. at 14-25.) Plaintiff filed a request for review of the Hearing Decision with the Appeals Council, which affirmed the ALJ's decision on August 23, 2010, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-3.)

Plaintiff was born on August 21, 1952 and completed her education through the seventh grade in Mexico. (Id. at 156.) She obtained an equivalency diploma in the United States. (Plaintiff's Mot. at 4.) Plaintiff's work activity report indicates she had previously worked as a packer in an assembly line from 1996 to 2005, as a newspaper delivery woman from 1992-1996, and as a memorial counselor selling cemetery lots from 1994-1996. (AR at 203.) Plaintiff described her position of selling cemetery lots as one requiring no lifting or carrying and consisting of five hours of sitting and three hours of standing per eight-hour workday. (Id. at 206.)

Plaintiff had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome on her right hand on April 14, 2006 and on her left hand on September 1, 2006. (AR at 36, 315.) She indicated she stopped working in September 2005 because of her medical conditions. (Id. at 156, 186.) She also takes medication for pain in her neck and lower back. (Id. at 38.) Dr. Donald Goldman testified at the hearing before the ALJ as a medical expert in the field of orthopedics. He testified Plaintiff should be able to lift 25-30 pounds on an occasional basis and 15-20 pounds on a frequent basis, and that Plaintiff did not have any restrictions related to walking or standing. (Id. at 41.) He also testified Plaintiff should be capable of using her hands without restriction. (Id. at 44.) Dr. Goldberg stated that he based his conclusions upon the lack of follow-up records before him following Plaintiff's hand surgeries. (Id.)

A vocational expert, Nelly Katsell, M.S., also testified at the hearing. Ms. Katsell classified Plaintiff's job as a packer in a factory as unskilled and medium in exertional demands, her work as a memorial counselor as skilled and light, and her work as a newspaper delivery woman as semi-skilled and medium. (AR at 50-51.)

In her motion, Plaintiff accepts Defendant's analysis of the medical facts as stated under Finding No.3 of the ALJ's April 16, 2010 decision, as well as the medical review stated in Finding Nos. 4 and 5. (Plaintiff's Mot. at 6; AR at 16-24.) Plaintiff further stipulates that she has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of light work, as the ALJ found. (Id.)

On September 28, 2010, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case, seeking judicial review of the denial of her application for benefits. (Doc. 1.) Defendant filed an answer and the administrative record on November 22, 2010. (Docs. 5, 7.) Pursuant to the Court's Order setting forth a briefing schedule, Plaintiff filed a motion for reversal and/or remand on January 3, 2011. (Doc. 9.) On February 4, 2011, Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and an opposition to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. 10.)


Under the Social Security Act, "disability" is defined as the: inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must be so severe that the claimant "is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot . . . engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). In addition, the impairment must result "from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory techniques." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).

A court cannot set aside a denial of benefits unless the Commissioner's findings are based upon legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989); Martinez v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Orteza v. Shalala, 50 F.3d 748, 749 (9th Cir. 1995). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Sorenson v. Weinberger, 514 F.2d 1112, 1119 n.10 (9th Cir. 1975).

To determine whether substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, a court reviews the record as a whole, not just the evidence supporting the decision of the ALJ. Walker v. Matthews, 546 F.2d 814, 818 (9th Cir. 1976). A court may not affirm the Commissioner's decision simply by isolating a specific amount of supporting evidence. Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). In short, a court must weigh the evidence that supports the Commissioner's conclusions and that which does not. Martinez, 807 F.2d at 772. However, the ALJ, and not the Court, is responsible for resolving ambiguities in the evidence. Magallanes, 881 F.2d at 750.

If there is substantial evidence to support the decision of the ALJ, the decision must be upheld, even when there is evidence on the other side and even when the evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984). If supported by substantial evidence, the ...

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