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Connie D. Rosales v. Michael J. Astrue

June 28, 2011

CONNIE D. ROSALES,
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 March 15, 2010, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). On May 13, 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 February 18, 2011, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits; 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, who was born on December 8, 1953,*fn1 filed an application for DIB. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 24, 87.) Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since November 11, 2003, due to musculoskeletal impairments, spinal and back injury, and depression. (A.R. 24, 80.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a maternity ward nurse. (A.R. 30, 81, 882.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 61-66), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 67). On March 14, 2007, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Sally C. Reason (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 876-900.) Vocational expert Gregory S. Jones also testified. (Id.) On October 26, 2007, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 24-32), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 5-8). 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 November 11, 2003, the alleged onset date of plaintiff's claimed disability. (A.R. 24.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff's "'severe' impairments lie in the musculoskeletal realm, primarily involving the lumbar spine and secondarily, the cervical spine." (A.R. 25.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff's headaches and "medically determinable impairment of depressive disorder, NOS," are "'not severe.'"*fn2 (Id.) The ALJ further determined that plaintiff "does not have [a]n impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or equal[s] in severity an impairment listed at Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Regulations no. 4." (A.R. 31.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") for "light work," with the exception that she is "limited to occasionally climbing ladders, stooping and crouching." (A.R. 25, 31.)

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. (A.R. 30-32.) However, having considered plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, as well as the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including those of office nurse or school nurse. (A.R. 31.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, "at any time through the date of [her] decision." (A.R. 32.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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