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Linda Watt v. Michael J. Astrue

July 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff filed a Complaint on June 29, 2010, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). On August 4, 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 March 1, 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.


Plaintiff filed an application for SSI. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 9, 34.) Plaintiff, who was born on December 13, 1956 (A.R. 92),*fn1 claims to have been disabled since October 8, 1999, due to a hearing impairment, arthritis, back injury, asthma, head injury, and throat infection. (A.R. 34, 39.) Plaintiff has no past relevant work experience.*fn2 (A.R. 15.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 34, 39), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 44). On April 14, 2009, plaintiff, who was not represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Joseph D. Schloss (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 20-31.) Vocational expert Troy L. Scott also testified. (A.R. 26-30.) On July 7, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 9-17), 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


The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 2, 2007, the application date. (A.R. 11.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: low back pain, arthritis, asthma, and a hearing impairment. (Id.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals in severity any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), with the following exceptions:

[Plaintiff] should not work in a noisy environment and should have the ability to wear assistive devices for hearing if needed. [Plaintiff] is precluded from climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, from working around vibrations, unprotected machinery, and at heights. Related to her asthma, the claimant should work in a clean air environment and must avoid extreme heat or cold, wetness, and changes in humidity.

(A.R. 11.)

The ALJ concluded that, because plaintiff has no past relevant work, "[t]ransferability of job skills is not an issue." (A.R. 15.) Based on plaintiff's "age, education, work experience, and [RFC]," the ALJ determined that plaintiff is able to perform jobs "that exist in significant numbers in the national economy." (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act since May 2, 2007, the date the application was filed. (A.R. 16.)


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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