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Kristin Hawthorne v. Michael J. Astrue

June 13, 2011

KRISTIN HAWTHORNE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. Woehrle United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's denial of disability and disability insurance benefits. The court finds that judgment should be granted in favor of defendant, affirming the Commissioner's decision.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kristin Hawthorne was born on June 16, 1980, and was 25-years old at the time of her administrative hearing. [Administrative Record ("AR") 18, 90.] She has at least a high school education and past relevant work experience as a loan officer, loan processor, and escrow clerk. [AR 18.] She alleges disability as a result of continued pain and limitations stemming from injuries suffered in a 1997 car accident.*fn1 [AR 26, 107.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff's complaint was lodged and filed on August 3, 2010. On February 23, 2011, defendant filed an answer and plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On June 27, 2011, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff applied for disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on December 12, 2007, alleging disability since March 1, 2006. [AR 90.]

After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on June 24, 2009, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") David J. Marcus [AR 21-51.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from both plaintiff, [AR 25-23], and vocational expert ("VE") Mr. Leeth [AR 43-48]. The ALJ denied benefits in an administrative decision filed on August 28, 2009. [AR 12-19.] When the Appeals Council denied review on June 19, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 1--2.] This action followed.

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's (or ALJ's) findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. However, if the court determines that a finding is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the finding and set aside the decision to deny benefits. See Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001); Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995)(per curiam). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. It is "relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must review the administrative record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-721; see also Osenbrock, 240 F.3d at 1162.

V. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

To be eligible for disability benefits a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable impairment which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity and which is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Tackett, ...


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