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Jolene Heacock v. Michael J. Astrue

July 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge


On November 1, 2010, Jolene Heacock ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a Complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security disability insurance benefits and supplemental income benefits. On April 29, 2011, the Commissioner filed an Answer to the Complaint. On June 29, 2011, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their positions and the issues in dispute.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision shouldbe reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this Memorandum Opinion and Order and with law.


Plaintiff is a 54 year old female alleging disability beginning August 13, 2005, due to stroke, carotid artery blockage, a blood clot behind the right eye, poor memory, and depression. (AR 8, JS 2.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since that date. (AR 327.)

Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. (AR 8.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing, which was held on March 26, 2008, in San Bernardino, California before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mason D. Harrell, Jr. (AR 8-19.) Medical expert Samuel Landau, M.D., and vocational expert ("VE") Sandra M. Fioretti also testified. (AR 8.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (AR 8.)

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 22, 2008 (the "Prior Decision"). (AR 8-19.) The Appeals Council denied review on June 21, 2008. (AR 1-3), Plaintiff appealed to this Court. On December 12, 2008, United States Magistrate Judge Carolyn Turchin issued an order vacating the Prior Decision and remanding for further proceedings (the "Remand Order"), directing the ALJ to give further consideration to whether Plaintiff's inability to drive would preclude the jobs cited by the VE and to address the inconsistency between the VE testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DICOT") regarding the bench assembler position. (AR 364-77.)

Following remand, the ALJ held a hearing on June 29, 2010 (AR 325), and issued an unfavorable decision on August 12, 2010 (the "Post-Remand Decision"). (AR 325-32.) The Prior Decision of April 22, 2008, was incorporated by reference in the Post-Remand Decision (AR 325) and updated with new medical records. (AR 330.) The Appeals Council did not review the ALJ's decision, which became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.984.


As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the only issue Plaintiff raises as a ground for reversal and remand is as follows: Whether the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff is capable of performing the jobs of bench assembler and office helper is consistent with the ALJ's residual functional capacity findings.


Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper legal standards).

Substantial evidence means "'more than a mere scintilla,' but less than a preponderance." Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).


The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 423(d) (1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step ...

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