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Roxane Cardenas v. Michael J. Astrue

August 3, 2011

ROXANE CARDENAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alicia G. Rosenberg United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Roxane Cardenas ("Cardenas") filed this action on February 25, 2010. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on March 10 and March 17, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 10.) On November 9, 2010, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the Court remands this matter to the Commissioner for proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 15, 2006, Cardenas filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits alleging an onset date of June 17, 2001.*fn1 Administrative Record ("AR") 156-64. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 77-86. Cardenas requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 87. On October 24, 2008, the ALJ continued the hearing to give Cardenas time to find representation. See AR 53-57. On November 25, 2008, a hearing was conducted at which Cardenas testified, however, the ALJ again continued the hearing to give Cardenas additional time to submit further medical evidence, and so that she could be evaluated by a consultative medical examiner. See AR 36-50. On April 13, 2009, the ALJ conducted a supplemental hearing at which Cardenas and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 21-35. On July 23, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 6-16. On January 7, 2010, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-4. This action followed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence, or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

"Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance -- it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523. In determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such benefits, "only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22, 124 S. Ct. 376, 157 L. Ed. 2d 333 (2003).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found Cardenas met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2007. AR 11. Cardenas had the following severe impairments: "status post motor vehicle accident in June 2001 with residual chronic right neck and shoulder pain; a second minor vehicle accident in December 2003 with neck and shoulder pain; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with right upper extremity radiculopathy; and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine." Id. Cardenas has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work "except she can only sit for two hours then must take a break" for six hours in an eight hour period. AR 12. "She can stand and/or walk 6 out [of] 8 hours with normal breaks. Postural limitations (i.e, climbing ramps/stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling) can be done on an occasional basis. [She] cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can occasionally reach at or above ...


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