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Brenda Maidlow v. Michael J. Astrue

November 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff filed a Complaint on December 29, 2010, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for a period of disability ("POD") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB").*fn1 On January 21, 2011, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on September 12, 2011, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; and defendant requests that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.


Plaintiff filed an application for POD and DIB. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 10.) Plaintiff, who was born on February 13, 1962 (A.R. 18),*fn2 claims to have been disabled since June 13, 2004 (A.R. 10), due to depression, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, panic disorder, "borderline intellectual functioning," knee pain, difficulties standing for long periods at a time, and seizures (A.R. 92, 97, 138, 251). Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a warehouse worker, secretary, and production assembler. (A.R. 18.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 92-101), plaintiff requested a hearing (see A.R. 104-09). On October 21, 2009, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Sharilyn Hopson (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 53-89.) At the hearing, plaintiff's husband John Maidlow, vocational expert Corrine J. Porter, and medical expert Dr. David Glassmire,*fn3 a psychologist, also testified. On December 7, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 10-19), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). That decision is now at issue in this action.


The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 13, 2004, the alleged onset date of her disability. (A.R. 12.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the following severe impairments: "major depressive disorder; bipolar disorder; psychotic disorder NOS; disorders of muscle, ligament, and fascia; sprains and strains; and epilepsy." (A.R. 12.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526). (A.R. 13.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary to light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). (A.R. 14.) Specifically, the ALJ determined that plaintiff is capable of: standing and/or walking for 2 hours, up to 30 minutes at one time; sitting for 8 hours with normal breaks such as every 2 hours; lifting and/or carrying 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; with no climbing of ladders, working at heights, or balancing; with no squatting, kneeling, crawling, running, or jumping; with no operation of motorized equipment or work around unprotected machinery; limited to simple repetitive tasks; with no public contact; with occasional contact with co-workers or supervisors; with no hypervigilance; and with no responsibility for the safety of others.


The ALJ concluded that plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. (A.R. 18.) However, having considered plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including electronics worker, small products assembler -- hospital products, and production inspector - eyeglasses. (A.R. 18-19.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 13, 2004, through the date of her decision. (A.R. 19.)


Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). "While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those 'reasonably drawn from the record' will suffice." Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his or her decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he [or she] did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability ...

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