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Daniel Sheehan v. Michael J. Astrue

July 19, 2011


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


The parties have consented under 28 U.S.C § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. In this action, Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's decision in his case to the extent it denies his application for Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") sought under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). The parties agree that this denial is in error and should be reversed, but disagree about the nature and scope of the consequent remand.

Accordingly, and as set forth below, the Magistrate Judge finds that the portion of the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's application for DIB should be reversed and remanded to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings consistent with this order. To the extent the Commissioner found plaintiff was disabled as of March 2008 under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, the decision is affirmed.


Plaintiff, Daniel Sheehan, was born on January 10, 1961; he was forty-five years old on the date last insured and forty-nine when he appeared at his administrative hearing. [Administrative Record "AR," 15, 121]. He has a tenth-grade education and past relevant work experience as an auto mechanic. [AR 28, 259]. Plaintiff alleges disability on the basis of rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis of the right elbow, depressive disorder, hepatitis C, and back pain. [AR 17, 255].


Plaintiff's complaint was filed on October 5, 2010. On April 18, 2011, defendant filed an answer and plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On June 10, 2011, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation*fn1 identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the nature of the remand sought by each party. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.


This is Plaintiff's second attempt to obtain benefits under the Act; his prior claims were denied in August 2005. [AR 14.] Central to this action, on March 10, 2008, Plaintiff applied for both DIB under Title II and for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, alleging disability since November 17, 2004. [AR 14]. It is uncontested that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act only through December 31, 2006. [AR 16; see JS.]

After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on March 3, 2010, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Patti Hunter [Transcript, AR 24-57]. Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from both plaintiff [AR 26-49] and vocational expert ("VE") David VanWinkle [AR 50-56].

The ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on March 26, 2010 [AR13-23], finding plaintiff was not disabled prior to December 31, 2006, for purpose of his DIB application but finding that he was disabled as of March 10, 2008, qualifying plaintiff for Title XVI benefits. When the Appeals Council denied review on September 1, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 1-4].

This action followed.


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 decisions 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 ...

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