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Kim Dirickson v. Michael J. Astrue

September 20, 2011

KIM DIRICKSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen J. Hillman United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

I. SUMMARY

This matter is before the Court for review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented that the undersigned may handle the case. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before the Commissioner. Plaintiff and defendant have filed their pleadings, defendant has filed the certified transcript of record, and each party has filed its supporting brief. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kim Dirickson ("plaintiff") applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on April 1, 2008, alleging inability to work since December 1, 2006. Administrative Record ("AR") 13. Both claims were denied on July 7, 2008, and again upon reconsideration on October 29, 2008. AR 13. Plaintiff filed for and was granted an administrative hearing, held on February 12, 2010. AR 25-66. On March 19, 2010, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the term under the Social Security Act. AR 10-24. Following the Appeals Council's denial on February 24, 2011, of plaintiff's request for a review of the hearing decision, plaintiff filed an action in this Court. AR 1-3, 8.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this court may review the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff benefits, and either affirm, reverse, or remand. Ramirez v. Shalala, 8 F.3d 1449, 1451 (9th Cir. 1993). Only decisions unsupported by substantial evidence or those based upon the application of improper legal standards will be disturbed. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2009); Vertigan v. Halter, 260 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997). To make determinations, this Court reviews the administrative record as a whole, taking into account all relevant evidence with respect to the Commissioner's conclusion. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999). This Court will not disturb the Commissioner's decision when the evidence allows more than one reasonable interpretation. Sandgathe, 108 F.3d at 980.

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff challenges the decision on three grounds. Plaintiff claims that the ALJ failed to give an adequate explanation supported by substantial evidence in finding that plaintiff's knee impairments did not meet or medically equal Listing 1.02A; second, the ALJ failed to account for the opinion of the examining psychiatrist in finding that plaintiff did not have a severe mental impairment, and; third, the ALJ failed to conduct an accurate and complete residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment because the evaluation did not factor in the opinion of the examining psychiatrist. For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

A. ISSUE NO. 1:

Plaintiff claims that the ALJ failed to give an adequate explanation supported by substantial evidence in finding that plaintiff's knee impairments did not meet or medically equal Listing 1.02(A). 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.1, § 1.02 (2011). Defendant counters that plaintiff failed to meet plaintiff's burden of demonstrating her disability under the Listing, and that the evidence proffered did not amount to the listed impairment.

The Social Security Regulations set forth a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). If the ALJ determines that a claimant's impairment is severe in step two, then the ALJ must determine in step three whether a claimant meets or exceeds a Listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.925, 416.926.

The plaintiff carries the initial burden to present medical findings that her impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the requirements of a Listing. Tackett, 180 F.3d at 1100. A diagnosis alone does not meet the burden, there must be specific findings showing the requirement of the Listing. "An impairment 'meets' a listed condition in the Listing of Impairments only when it manifests the specific findings described in the set of medical criteria for that Listed impairment. A finding that an impairment meets the listing will not be justified on the basis of a diagnosis alone." Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 83-19; see Marcia v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 172, 175 (9th Cir. 1990). The burden then shifts to the ALJ to evaluate all the evidence in detail to determine whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments do indeed meet or medically equal a Listed impairment. Lewis v. Apfel, 236 F.3d 503, 512 (9th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). A "boilerplate finding is insufficient to support a conclusion that a claimant's impairment does not [meet or equal a Listing]." Id. An ALJ's lack of formal analysis and findings at step three, however, will not constitute reversible error when plaintiff has "offered no theory, plausible or otherwise, as to how his [impairments] combined to equal a listed impairment." Id. at 513-14.

Plaintiff argues that her condition meets or equals the requirements of Listing 1.02(A). The Listing governs the major dysfunction of a joint due to ...


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