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Cedric Baines v. Michael J. Astrue

August 25, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marc L. Goldman United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Cedric Baines seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is affirmed and the action is dismissed with prejudice.

I. Background

Plaintiff was born on December 13, 1984. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 38, 146.) He did not complete high school and has some special job training in the California Conservation Corps. (AR at 29, 122.) Plaintiff received SSI benefits until his benefits were terminated when he was eighteen pursuant to a Disability Redetermination Decision dated November 19, 2003. (AR at 101-104.)

Plaintiff filed an application for benefits on September 2, 2005, alleging that he had been disabled since March 3, 1992 due to a personality disorder and a learning disorder. (AR at 146.) The application was denied initially on December 30, 2005, and upon reconsideration on June 7, 2006. (AR at 96-100, 88-92.) An administrative hearing was held on May 29, 2008, before ALJ Joseph D. Schloss. (AR at 22-37.) On June 17, 2008, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (AR at 12-21.) After the Appeals Council denied review, Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review. On August 18, 2009, the Court vacated and remanded the matter to the Commissioner pursuant to a joint stipulation because several exhibits referenced in the ALJ's June 17, 2008 decision could not be located. (AR at 54.)

On remand, a second administrative hearing was held on May 19, 2010. (AR at 32-37.) On July 1, 2010, ALJ Schloss again denied Plaintiff's application for benefits. (AR at 5-11.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. (AR at 7.) The ALJ further found that the medical evidence established that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments, including a history of learning disorder and a possible history of drug abuse. (Id.) However, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet, or were not medically equal to, one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). (AR at 11.)

The case was then reopened in this Court. On August 18, 2011, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") of disputed facts and issues. Plaintiff contends that (1) the ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff's condition did not meet Listing 12.05B and in failing to develop the record, and (2) the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. (Joint Stip. at 3.) Plaintiff seeks a reversal of the Commissioner's denial of his application and payment of benefits or, in the alternative, remand for a new administrative hearing. (Joint Stip. at 25.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. (Joint Stip. at 25.)

II. 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 decision must be upheld unless "the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1990); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing 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." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). "If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882.

III. Discussion

A. The ALJ Properly Determined that Plaintiff's Impairment Does Not Meet or Equal a Listed Impairment

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider whether he meets Listing 12.05B for mental retardation. (Joint Stip. at 3.) A social security applicant who has an impairment that meets or equals one of the Social Security Administration's listed impairments is considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). In order to meet Listing

12.05B, an individual must have "[a] valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 59 or less." 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, 12.05. Plaintiff contends that he meets Listing 12.05B based upon a Psychological Assessment conducted on December 24, 1995 when Plaintiff was eleven years old by Dr. Haig J. Kojian, Ph.D., which assessed Plaintiff with a verbal IQ of 47, a performance IQ of 72 and a full scale IQ of 56. (Joint Stip. at 3, citing AR at 172-178.)

The ALJ rejected Dr. Kojian's report primarily because it was conducted in 1995, almost ten years prior to the filing date, and was therefore outside the relevant time frame. (AR at 10.) The ALJ also gave little weight to the report because Dr. Kojian did not diagnose Plaintiff with mental retardation and because the more recent evidence in the record did not support a finding of anything greater than minimal work-related limitations. (Id.) In addition, the ALJ relied upon the fact that the State Agency ...

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