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Bud E. Murphy v. Michael J. Astrue

August 24, 2011

BUD E. MURPHY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff, who is represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge ("ALJ") in this case erred by: (1) not further developing the record regarding plaintiff's claimed mental impairment of depression; (2) improperly rejecting the medical opinion of Gregory White, M.D. ("Dr. White"), one of his treating physicians; (3) improperly rejecting the opinion of Cathy Metro, P.A. ("Ms. Metro"), a physician's assistant that intermittently saw plaintiff; and (4) improperly discounting much of plaintiff's testimony as not credible. (See generally Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. No. 11.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 12.) Plaintiff did not file a reply brief. For the reasons stated below, the court denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grants the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

On November 30, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging a disability onset date of October 14, 2005.*fn3 (Admin. Tr. ("AT") 67, 111-16.) The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. (AT 67-68, 82-91.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, and the ALJ conducted a hearing regarding plaintiff's claim on June 25, 2008. (AT 35-66, 92.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing and testified. A vocational expert ("VE") also testified at the hearing.

In a decision dated August 8, 2008, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application, finding that plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the regional and national economies.*fn4 (See AT 24-33.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the

Commissioner when the Appeals Council ultimately denied plaintiff's request for review. (AT 1-4.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

B. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ conducted the required five-step evaluation and concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since November 30, 2005, the date plaintiff filed his application for benefits. (AT 26.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the following "severe" impairments: "mild cardiac obstructive pulmonary disease; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; and history of hepatitis C."*fn5 (Id.) Relevant to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not suffer from a severe mental impairment, including depression or anxiety. (Id.) However, the ALJ reviewed the assertion that plaintiff 416.971-976; see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has summarized the sequential evaluation as follows:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.

Step two: Does the claimant have a "severe" impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding of not disabled is appropriate.

Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.1? If so, the claimant is automatically determined disabled. If not, proceed to step four.

Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, proceed to step five.

Step five: Does the claimant have the residual functional capacity to perform any other work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the claimant is disabled.

The claimant bears the burden of proof in the first four steps of the sequential evaluation process. Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5. The Commissioner bears the burden if the sequential evaluation process proceeds to step five. Id. suffered from depression and anxiety and stated that "[a]ll of the claimant's nonsevere and severe impairments were considered in combination in arriving at the residual functional capacity set forth below." (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's impairments, whether alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal any impairment listed in the applicable regulations. (AT 26-27.)

Prior to reaching step four of the analysis, the ALJ determined plaintiff's residual functional ...


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