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Bernardo Pacheco Herrera v. Michael J. Astrue

September 29, 2011

BERNARDO PACHECO HERRERA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY PROCEEDINGS

On November 22, 2010, Bernardo Pacheco Herrera ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer to the Complaint on May 27, 2011. On July 29, 2011, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS").

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision shouldbe affirmed and the case dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 55 year old male who filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance on January 22, 2008, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2005, due to bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. (AR 44.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on April 8, 2008, and on reconsideration on July 29, 2008. (AR 44.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing, which was held on February 18, 2010, in West Los Angeles, California, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joseph Lisiecki. (AR 44.) Plaintiff appeared and testified. (AR 44.) Claimant spoke through the assistance of a Spanish interpreter. (AR 44.) Vocational expert ("VE") Gregory S. Jones also appeared at the hearing. (AR 44.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (AR 44.) At the hearing, Plaintiff's alleged disability onset date was amended to May 20, 2006. (AR 44.)

The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on February 22, 2010. (AR 44-52.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 25, 2010. (AR 1-4.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the issues Plaintiff raises as grounds for reversal and remand are as follows:

1. Whether the ALJ erred in the assessment of Plaintiff's limitations stemming from bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome.

2. Whether the ALJ erred in the credibility findings.

3. Whether the ALJ erred in relying on the vocational expert's response to an incomplete hypotethical question.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper legal standards).

Substantial evidence means "'more than a mere scintilla,' but less than a preponderance." Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION

The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d) (1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential process to determine whether a claimant is disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

The first step is to determine whether the claimant is presently engaging in substantial gainful activity. Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). If the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity, disability benefits will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). Second, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. An impairment is not severe if it does not significantly limit the claimant's ability to work. Smolen, 80 F.3d 1273, 1290 (9th Cir. 1996). Third, the ALJ must determine whether the impairment is listed, or equivalent to an impairment listed, in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix I of the regulations. Parra, 481 F.3d at 746. If the impediment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, the claimant is ...


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