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Karen Mcclure v. Michael J. Astrue

November 7, 2011

KAREN MCCLURE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David T. Bristow United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed a Complaint ("Complaint") on August 27, 2010, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income. In accordance with the Magistrate Judge's Case Management Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Jt. Stip.") on May 5, 2011. Thus, this matter now is ready for decision.*fn1

DISPUTED ISSUES

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by not obtaining the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE"). (Jt. Stip. 3-7.)

2. Whether the ALJ properly considered the examining psychologist's opinion. (Jt. Stip. 7-12.)

3. Whether the ALJ provided a complete and accurate assessment of plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (Jt. Stip. 12-14.)

DISCUSSION

I. The ALJ properly considered the examining psychologist's opinion and the RFC determination was complete and accurate.

Plaintiff claims in Disputed Issue Two that the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of Dr. Nick Andonov, who conducted a complete psychological evaluation of plaintiff in April 2008. (Jt. Stip. 7-9.) Similarly, plaintiff claims in Disputed Issue Three that the ALJ's assessment of her RFC is erroneous because it failed to include limitations posited by Dr. Andonov. (Jt. Stip. 12-14.)

As part of his evaluation, Dr. Andonov administered a series of psychological tests to plaintiff. (AR 221-25.) Notably, during one of the tests, Part B of the Trail-Making test, Dr. Andonov discontinued testing after two minutes because plaintiff was "confused" and "did not grasp number to letter trailing." (Jt. Stip. 7-8; AR 224.) Following the testing, Dr. Andonov completed a functional analysis that found that plaintiff "understands simple instructions," "will have difficulties getting along with peers because of her anger," and has "obvious" slowness. (AR 225.) Dr. Andonov also determined that plaintiff has a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 50.*fn2

Based on Dr. Andonov's evaluation, a state agency medical consultant concluded that plaintiff's mental functional capacity "would not preclude unskilled work activity in a low-stress, non-public setting." (AR 247.) The ALJ gave great weight to the state agency medical consultant's conclusion and found that plaintiff has an RFC, in pertinent part, for "unskilled work activity in a low-stress, non-public setting." (AR 14.)

The crux of plaintiff's claim in Disputed Issue Two is that the ALJ's RFC determination is erroneous because the ALJ failed to consider or discuss the impact of Dr. Andonov's opinion that plaintiff "will have difficulties getting along with peers because of her anger" and has a GAF score of 50. (Jt. Stip. 8). Plaintiff argues that these limitations are not captured by the ALJ's RFC determination that plaintiff is limited to "unskilled work activity in a low-stress, non-public setting." (Jt. Stip. 8-9.) In Disputed Issue Three, plaintiff raises essentially the same argument to dispute the ALJ's RFC determination. (Jt. Stip. 13.)

Residual functional capacity measures what a claimant can still do despite existing "exertional" (strength-related) and "non-exertional" limitations. Valentine *fn3 v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 574 F.3d 685, 689 (9th Cir. 2009); Frost v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 359, 366 (9th Cir. 2002); Cooper v. Sullivan, 880 F.2d 1152, 1155 n. 5 (9th Cir. 1989). An RFC assessment must take into account all of a claimant's medically determinable impairments and their resulting symptoms. Light v. Social Security Admin., 119 F.3d 789, 793 (9th Cir. 1997) ("In determining [a claimant's] residual functional capacity, the ALJ must consider . . . the aggregate of [his or her] mental and physical impairments."); Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184 at *5 ("The RFC assessment must be based on all of the relevant evidence in the case record.")

Neither of the two limitations identified by plaintiff from Dr. Andonov's evaluation calls into question the accuracy or completeness of the ALJ's RFC determination. The first limitation at issue, that plaintiff "will have difficulties getting along with peers because of her anger," is encompassed by the ALJ's determination that plaintiff is limited to unskilled work activity in a low-stress, non-public setting. By definition, unskilled work activities, at all levels of ...


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