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Debra Nevens v. Michael J. Astrue

July 29, 2011

DEBRA NEVENS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for supplemental security income. As discussed below, the court finds that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed and this matter remanded for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Debra Nevens was born on March 15, 1961, and was forty-nine years old at the time of her administrative hearing. [Administrative Record "AR" 56.] She has at least a high school education, past work experience as a toy assembler and CD assembler, and is able to communicate in English. [AR 19-20.] Plaintiff claims disability on the basis of right knee swelling and pain, arthritis, mid- and lower-back pain, left shoulder pain, left foot spur, anxiety, diabetes mellitus, carpal tunnel syndrome, and morbid obesity. [Joint Stipulation "JS" 2.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff filed a complaint on September 22, 2010. On March 17, 2011, Defendant filed an answer and Plaintiff's Administrative Record ("AR"). On July 7, 2011, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income on October 9, 2007, alleging disability since June 14, 2000. [AR 56-60, 124-26.] After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on March 30, 2010. [AR 21-53, 61-69, 73-78, 80.] At the hearing, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. [Id.] A medical and vocational expert also appeared and testified. [Id.] The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on May 10, 2010. [AR 6-20.] On June 7, 2010, Plaintiff sought review with the Appeals Council. [AR 4-5.] When the Appeals Council denied review on August 16, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 1-3.]

IV. 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.

V. 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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