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Steven A. Mcmahon v. Michael J. Astrue

June 6, 2011

STEVEN A. MCMAHON,
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 April 16, 2010, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). On October 16, 2010, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on December 17, 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 or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings. 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 and DIB. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 136-38.) Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since January 1, 2003, due to blood clots, deep vein thrombosis of the right leg, peripheral neuropathy, spinal stenosis, five desiccated discs and bone spurs of the lower back, colitis, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic syndrome, and depression. (A.R. 75, 147.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a tax preparer, operation analyst, and administrative assistant and/or clerk.*fn1 (A.R. 18.)

Mason, M.D.*fn2 also testified at the September 22, 2008 hearing.*fn3 (A.R. 23-40.) On January 21, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 12-19), 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 January 1, 2003, the alleged onset date of plaintiff's claimed disability. (A.R. 14.) The ALJ further found that plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2005. (Id.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairment of back pain.*fn4 (Id.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals in severity any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525 and 404.1526). (A.R. 16.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). (Id.) Specifically, the ALJ found that:

[Plaintiff] can occasionally lift and carry twenty pounds and frequently lift and carry ten pounds. [Plaintiff] can stand for a total of four hours in an eight-hour workday, walk for a total of two hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday. [Plaintiff] can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. [Plaintiff] cannot reach overhead, bilaterally. [Plaintiff] cannot perform operations of foot controls on the right side. [Plaintiff] is precluded from crawling and climbing ladders or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] is also precluded from working at unprotected heights and vibrations. (Id.)

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff's past relevant work as a tax preparer, operation analyst, and administrative assistant and/or clerk does 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 from January 1, 2003, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2005, the date last insured. (A.R. 19.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner'sdecision 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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