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Maria M. Gale v. Michael J. Astrue

May 5, 2011

MARIA M. GALE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Jacqueline Chooljian United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. SUMMARY

On July 26, 2010, plaintiff Maria M. Gale ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of plaintiff's application for benefits. The parties have consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, respectively ("Plaintiff's Motion") and ("Defendant's Motion"). The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L.R. 7-15; August 3, 2010 Case Management Order, ¶ 5.

Based on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The findings of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material error.*fn1

II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

On December 11, 2007, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") 16, 150). Plaintiff asserted that she became disabled on February 13, 2006 due to multiple physical and mental impairments including neck and back pain (due to previously suffering a broken neck, receiving replacement vertebra and the placement of titanium rods, plates and screws in her neck and back), terrible headaches, anxiety and depression, and vision problems. (AR 171).

The ALJ examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel), medical experts Betty L. Borden, M.D. and Minh Vu, M.D. on August 19, 2009. (AR 16, 52, 55).*fn2

On September 30, 2009, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled prior to June 6, 2008, but became disabled on June 6, 2008, and remained disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 16, 27). Specifically, the ALJ found that:

(1) between February 13, 2006 (i.e., the date on which plaintiff alleges she became disabled) and June 6, 2008 (the date on which plaintiff actually became disabled according to the ALJ) plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: spondylitis of the cervical spine, history of left foot fracture, capsulitis of the left shoulder, and anxiety disorder (AR 18); (2) prior to June 6, 2008, plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments (AR 20); (3) prior to June 6, 2008, plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform simple, routine tasks at the light level of physical exertion (as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b)), but with several exertional limitations (AR 21); (4) plaintiff could not perform her past relevant *fn3 work (AR 25); (5) prior to June 6, 2008, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, specifically ticket taker, information clerk, and counter clerk (AR 25-26); and (6) plaintiff's allegations regarding her subjective symptoms and limitations lacked credibility in several respects (AR 21-23).

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's application for review. (AR 1).

III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Sequential Evaluation Process

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a 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 at least twelve months. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work she previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).

In assessing whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ is to follow a five-step sequential evaluation process:

(1) Is the claimant presently engaged in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.

(2) Is the claimant's alleged impairment sufficiently severe to limit her ability to work? If not, the claimant is not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.

(3) Does the claimant's impairment, or combination of impairments, meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1? If so, the claimant is disabled. If not, proceed to step four.

(4) Does the claimant possess the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.

(5) Does the claimant's residual functional capacity, when considered with the claimant's age, education, and work experience, allow her to adjust to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.

Stout v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration, 454 F.3d 1050, 1052 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing 20 C.F.R. ...


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