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Norma Jean King v. Michael J. Astrue

June 22, 2011

NORMA JEAN KING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

On December 1, 2009, plaintiff Norma Jean King ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant"), the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, seeking review of a denial of supplemental security income ("SSI"). [Docket No. 3.] On March 15, 2010, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record ("AR"). [Docket Nos. 15, 17.]

Plaintiff submitted a brief in support of her complaint ("Plaintiff's Brief") on April 8, 2011. [Docket No. 28.] On June 8, 2011, Defendant submitted his opposition brief ("Defendant's Brief"). [Docket No. 31.]

In sum, having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' written submissions and the administrative record, the Court concludes that, as detailed herein, the Administrate Law Judge inappropriately discounted Plaintiff's subjective complaints about the severity of pain and her limitations. The Court remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II. PERTINENT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was 64 years of age on the date of her administrative hearing, has completed high school. (See AR at 22, 80, 98.) Her past relevant work includes employment as a shipping and receiving clerk and as a stock clerk. (Id. at 27-29, 95.)

Plaintiff filed for SSI on March 19, 2007, alleging that she has been disabled since December 1, 2006 because of hearing loss, a tumor in her left ear, hepatitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and an injury to her right shoulder. (AR at 80, 93-94.) At her hearing, Plaintiff changed the onset date to March 19, 2007. (Id. At 24-25.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied after which she filed a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 51-54, 56, 57-62.)

On March 30, 2009, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (AR at 22-47.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Mr. Jones*fn1 , a vocational expert ("VE"). (Id. at 27-38.)

On May 12, 2009, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 11-17.) Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of disability. (Id. at 13.)

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff "had the following severe impairments: right shoulder tendinitis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and bilateral hearing loss." (ARat 13.)

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence does not demonstrate that Plaintiff's impairment, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equal the severity of any listing set forth in the Social Security regulations.*fn2 (AR at 13.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity*fn3 ("RFC") and determined that she was limited to performing medium work. (AR at 13-14.) The ALJ limited Plaintiff from performing "any work involving concentrated exposure to dust, fumes, temperature extremes, or noisy environments, and work involving exposure to hazards, and any work where good hearing is required." (Id. at 14.)

The ALJ determined, at step four, that Plaintiff has the ability to perform her past relevant work. (AR at 16.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. (Id. at 11, 17.)

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. (AR at 1-3, 7.) The ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court is empowered to review decisions by the Commissioner to deny benefits. 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). The findings and decision of the Social Security Administration must be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. Mayes v. Massanari, 276 F.3d 453, 458-59 (9th Cir. 2001, as amended Dec. 21, 2001). If the court, however, determines that the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the findings and set aside the ...


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