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Lashondra R. Richardson v. Michael J. Astrue

November 17, 2011

LASHONDRA R. RICHARDSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on June 10, 2010, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). On July 22, 2010, 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 February 24, 2011, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and awarding benefits or, alternatively, remanding for further administrative proceedings; and the Commissioner requests that his decision be affirmed or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings. The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On August 14, 2006, plaintiff filed an application for SSI. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 9.) Plaintiff, who was born on August 9, 1988 (A.R. 13),*fn1 claims to have been disabled since March 7, 2005 (A.R. 9), due to lupus (A.R. 41, 64).

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 41-45), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 46). On March 11, 2008, plaintiff, who was not represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge London L. Steverson ("ALJ Steverson"). (A.R. 20-39.) At the hearing, plaintiff's mother, Linda Richardson, also testified. On March 28, 2008, ALJ Steverson denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 9-14), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of ALJ Steverson's decision (A.R. 1-5). That decision is now at issue in this action.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

ALJ Steverson found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period at issue. (A.R. 11.) ALJ Steverson determined that plaintiff has "hypertension and systemic lupus erythematosus." (Id.) He 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. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926). (Id.)

After reviewing the record, ALJ Steverson determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. (A.R. 11.) He noted that plaintiff worked as a "courtesy clerk/box person at a grocery store from August 2005 to April 2006" --- a job which "appears to have involved light, unskilled work activities." (A.R. 13.) However, according to a summary earnings query, plaintiff's wages were "minimal." (Id.) Accordingly, he "decline[d] to make a finding that plaintiff is not disabled because she is able to engage in past relevant work." (Id.)

ALJ Steverson determined that "[t]ransferability of job skills is not an issue because [plaintiff] does not have past relevant work." (A.R. 13.) However, having considered plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC in connection with the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, he found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. (A.R. 13-14.) Accordingly, he concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, "at any time through the date of [his] decision." (A.R. 14.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 determination.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006)(quoting Stout v. Comm'r, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Burch, 400 F.3d at 679.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff makes the following claims: (1) ALJ Steverson lacked the candor "to judge credibility and make impartial decisions," and therefore, the Court should reverse and remand for a de novo hearing before an impartial and candid administrative law judge ("ALJ"); and (2) ALJ Steverson improperly ...


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