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Daniel Dearagon v. Michael J. Astrue

August 4, 2011

DANIEL DEARAGON, 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

Daniel DeAragon ("DeAragon") filed this action on February 2, 2010. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before Magistrate Judge Rosenberg on March 3 and 4, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 7, 9.) On October 21, 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 November 22, 2006, DeAragon filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Administrative Record ("AR") 9. In both applications, DeAragon alleged a disability onset date of April 21, 1984. Id. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 9, 154-58, 160-64. DeAragon requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 165. Four hearings were conducted in this matter. On October 16, 2008, DeAragon appeared at the hearing without a representative. AR 27-43. The ALJ continued the hearing to give DeAragon the opportunity to update his medical records and retain a representative. AR 36-42. DeAragon retained a representative who was present for the three remaining hearings. On November 10, 2008, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which a medical expert, DeAragon, and his mother testified. AR 44-87. The ALJ continued the hearing to allow DeAragon's representative additional time to question DeAragon's mother and to order a neurological consultative evaluation. AR 86. DeAragon received a comprehensive neurological evaluation on December 23, 2008. AR 659-67. On February 24, 2009, the ALJ conducted a second supplemental hearing at which a medical expert, DeAragon, and DeAragon's mother testified. AR 88-120. The ALJ granted DeAragon's request for another continuance in order to obtain testimony from DeAragon's cousin. AR 118. On March 18, 2009, the ALJ conducted a third supplemental hearing at which DeAragon, DeAragon's cousin, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 121-48.

On August 24, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 6-19. On December 17, 2009, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-3. 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 that DeAragon meets the insured status requirements through ...


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