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Elia Garcia v. Michael J. Astrue

September 28, 2011

ELIA GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Andrew J. Wistrich United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Plaintiff filed this action seeking reversal of the decision of the defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. The parties have filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") setting forth their contentions with respect to each disputed issue.

Administrative Proceedings

Plaintiff alleges that she became disabled on September 30, 2000 due to type II diabetes mellitus with peripheral neuropathy, lumbar degenerative disc disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"). [JS 2]. Plaintiff filed her application for disability insurance benefits on February 21, 2008.*fn1

That application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. [JS 2; Administrative Record ("AR") 112]. Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was conducted before an administrative law judge (the "ALJ") on October 21, 2009. [JS 2; AR 25-39].

On November 12, 2009, the ALJ issued a written decision denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled from September 30, 2000, her alleged date of onset, through December 31, 2005, her date last insured, because plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. [JS 2; AR 6-24]. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of that decision. [AR 6-8].

Standard of Review

The Commissioner's denial of benefits should be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 454 F.3d 1050, 1054 (9th Cir. 2006); Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002). "Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005). "It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)(internal quotation marks omitted). The court is required to review the record as a whole and to consider evidence detracting from the decision as well as evidence supporting the decision. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006); Verduzco v. Apfel, 188 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 1999). "Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld." Thomas, 278 F.3d at 954 (citing Morgan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir.1999)).

Statement of Disputed Issues

The disputed issues are: (1) whether the ALJ properly considered the opinion of consultative examining psychiatrist Suzanne Ashman, M.D.; and (2) whether the ALJ properly considered the opinion of state agency physician Calmeze Dudley, M.D.

Discussion

Consultative examining psychiatrist

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in failing to properly consider the opinion of the Commissioner's examining psychiatrist, Dr. Ashman. [See JS 3-9].

Plaintiff said that she stopped working in September 2000 because of high cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes, and because she became nervous. [JS 5; AR 29, 127]. Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2005. [JS 5; AR 12]. Plaintiff submitted some medical records dated prior to her date last insured, but ...


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