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Virginia Valenzuela v. Michael J. Astrue

June 28, 2011

VIRGINIA VALENZUELA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff seeks review of Defendant's decision denying her disability benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings. \\ \\ \\

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 13, 2008, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI. (Administrative Record ("AR") 108-18). Plaintiff was born on March 27, 1966 and was 41 years old at the time she filed her applications for disability insurance benefits and SSI. (AR 108). Plaintiff's applications allege disability beginning on January 31, 2006, due to limitations resulting from sleep apnea, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and obesity. (AR 108, 111, 134). Plaintiff's DIB and SSI applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 46-49, 54-59).

Plaintiff thereafter requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 61-68). The hearing took place in San Bernardino, California on August 27, 2009 with ALJ Mason D. Harrell, Jr. presiding. (AR 20-41). At the hearing, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (AR 22-25, 31-37). On November 17, 2009, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff capable of performing a limited range of sedentary work. (AR 7-19). On January 5, 2010, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council. (AR 5). On July 17, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-3).

III. THE FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that prevents him from engaging in substantial gainful activity*fn1 and that is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 721 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work he 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)).

To decide if a claimant is entitled to benefits, an ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The steps are:

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

(2) Is the claimant's impairment severe? If not, the claimant is found not disabled. If so, proceed to step three.

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

(4) Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.

(5) Is the claimant able to do any other work? If not, the claimant is found disabled. If so, the ...


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