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Peter Amschel v. Michael J. Astrue

September 13, 2011

PETER AMSCHEL, 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

Peter Amschel filed this action on October 18, 2010. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on December 6 and 15, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 6, 7.) On August 2, 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 June 8, 2007, Amschel filed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging a disability onset date of August 9, 2006. Administrative Record ("AR") 10. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. Amschel requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. On June 2, 2009, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Amschel, a medical expert and a vocational expert testified. AR 20-54. On August 26, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 10-19. On August 17, 2010, 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 claimant is disabled, "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).

However, a finding of disabled does not automatically qualify a claimant for disability benefits. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Bustamante v. Massanari, 262 F.3d 949, 954 (9th Cir. 2001)). A claimant is not eligible to receive disability benefits if drug or alcohol addiction is a "contributing factor material to the Commissioner's determination that the individual is disabled." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535(a). The claimant bears the burden of proving that drug or alcohol addiction is not a contributing factor material to his or her disability. Parra, 481 F.3d at 748. If the Commissioner finds that the claimant is disabled and has medical evidence of the claimant's drug addiction or alcoholism, "the ALJ must conduct a drug and alcoholism analysis by determining which of the claimant's disabling limitations would remain if the claimant stopped using drugs or alcohol." Id., 481 F.3d at 747; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535(b)(2); see also Bustamante, 262 F.3d at 954; Ball v. Massanari, 254 F.3d 817, 821 (9th Cir. 2001). If the remaining limitations would still be disabling, then drug addiction or alcohol is not a contributing factor material to his disability. Parra, 481 F.3d at 747. If the remaining limitations would not be disabling, then the claimant's substance abuse is material and benefits must be denied. Id.

B. The ALJ's Findings

Amschel met the insured status requirements through June 30, ...


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