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Patty Jo Sanders v. Michael J. Astrue

July 6, 2011

PATTY JO SANDERS,
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 June 11, 2010, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). On July 9, 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 15, 2011, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; 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 filed an application for SSI on July 18, 2006. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 53.) Plaintiff, who was born on November 8, 1967 (A.R. 10),*fn1 claims to have been disabled since May 15, 2002, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, "heart valves collapsing," and back pain (A.R. 53, 62, 68). Plaintiff has no past relevant work experience. (A.R. 60.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 62-66, 68-72), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 73, 77-78). On June 4, 2008, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Lowell Fortune (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 8-47.) At the hearing, testimony was given by medical expert Dr. Samuel Landau, M.D., a Board certified cardiologist and internist (A.R. 11-23, 55), and vocational expert Alan E. Cummings (A.R. 45-46, 53). On August 6, 2008, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 53-61), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). 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 July 18, 2006, the date plaintiff filed her application for SSI.*fn2 (A.R. 55.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: morbid obesity; diabetes mellitus II; and a right knee disorder.*fn3 (Id.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. § Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926). (A.R. 56.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "a range of work between sedentary and light" as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967. (A.R. 57.) Specifically, the ALJ found that:

[Plaintiff] can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk two hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday. Her ability to push and/or pull is unlimited, other than as shown for lifting and/or carrying. She may occasionally climb ramps or stairs, bend, or stoop and is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, from balancing, crouching, kneeling, running, jumping, or working at heights, and she must avoid walking on uneven terrain. [Plaintiff] should also avoid continuous exposure to humidity or wetness, and should not be exposed to fumes, odors, dust, gases or chemicals. [Plaintiff] should work in a clean, air-conditioned environment.

(Id.)

The ALJ concluded that, because plaintiff has no past relevant work, "transferability of job skills is not an issue." (A.R. 60.) Based on plaintiff's "age, education, work experience, and [RFC]," and the testimony of Mr. Cummings, the ALJ determined that plaintiff is able to perform work "that exists in significant numbers in the national economy." (A.R. 61.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act since July 18, 2006, the date the application was filed. (A.R. 53, 61.)

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 ...


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