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Kathleen Holstine v. Michael J. Astrue

August 5, 2011

KATHLEEN HOLSTINE
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

Plaintiff Kathleen Holstine ("Holstine") filed a Complaint on May 20, 2010. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties filed consents to proceed before the magistrate judge on June 3 and 18, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.) On January 20, 2011, 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 affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 22, 2007, Holstine filed an application for supplemental security income benefits. Administrative Record ("AR") 9. She alleged a disability onset date of July 30, 2006. Id. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. Holstine requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. On January 15, 2009, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Holstine and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 21-42. On June 1, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 9-20. On April 9, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Holstine's 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).

In this context, "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. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523. /// /// ///

III.DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled and is eligible for 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 Holstine has the severe impairments of "right ankle fracture with open reduction internal rotation surgery and mood disorder." AR 11. She has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work and is limited to "lifting 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently; sit[ting], stand[ing], and walk[ing] up to six hours each in an eight hour workday, with normal breaks; with no work[ing] on rough or uneven ground; and no ladder climbing or work[ing] at height[s], and no prolonged walking." AR 14. Holstine's work "should be routine and repetitive, entry level, and minimally stressful, with no contact with the general public and only a superficial degree of interpersonal contact with co-workers and supervisors." Id. She is unable to perform any past relevant work, but there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform, such as housekeeper. AR 18-19.

C. Treating Physicians' Opinions

An opinion of a treating physician is given more weight than the opinion of non-treating physicians. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 631 (9th Cir. 2007). When a treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another doctor, "the ALJ may not reject this opinion without providing specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record. This can be done by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings." Id. at 632 (citations and quotation marks omitted). When the ALJ declines to give a treating physician's opinion controlling weight, the ALJ considers several factors, including the following: (1) length of the treatment relationship and frequency of examination;*fn1 (2) nature and extent of the treatment relationship;*fn2 (3) the amount of relevant evidence supporting the opinion and the quality of the explanation provided; (4) consistency with record as a whole; and (5) the specialty of the physician providing the ...


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