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Patricia Woods v. Michael J. Astrue

June 29, 2011

PATRICIA WOODS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

The parties have consented that the case may be handled by the undersigned.

The action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which authorizes the court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of record before the Commissioner. Plaintiff and defendant have filed a joint stipulation (Plaintiff's Brief with Points and Authorities Requesting Remand or Reversal ["Plaintiff's Brief"]; Defendant's Brief with Points and Authorities in Opposition to Plaintiff's Request for Remand or Reversal ["Defendant's Brief"], and defendant has filed the certified transcript of record. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

I.

BACKGROUND On April 9, 2004, plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits; plaintiff also protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income ("SSI") on March 16, 2004. (AR 21). Both applications, which alleged disability beginning June 29, 2001, were initially denied on August 2, 2004, and upon reconsideration on March 8, 2005. Thereafter, plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing on April 7, 2005 and appeared and testified at the hearing held on October 11, 2006. On January 22, 2007, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding plaintiff had severe physical impairments but could perform a wide range of light work. (AR 21-31).

On August 2, 2007, plaintiff protectively filed a second application for supplemental security income ("SSI"), alleging disability beginning June 30, 2001, due to pain in the right shoulder, neck, and hands. (AR 74, 91). The claim was denied initially on March 18, 2008, and upon reconsideration on April 18, 2008. Thereafter, plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on May 7, 2008. (20 CFR 416.1429 et seq.) Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing on September 29, 2009; the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 13, 2009. (AR 14). The ALJ determined that plaintiff had not presented new material evidence showing changed circumstances indicative of greater disability during the unadjudicated period ,*fn1 that she had the same limitations as those found in 2007, and that she could not perform her past relevant work , but remained able to perform other jobs existing in significant numbers. (AR 11-20). After considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

II. 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.

III. 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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