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John Hickam v. Michael J. Astrue

December 9, 2011

JOHN HICKAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alicia G. Rosenberg United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

John Hickam ("Hickam") filed this action on August 16, 2010.*fn1 Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on August 25 and 26, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.) On April 14, 2011, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. The Court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 15, 2006, Hickam filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2004. Administrative Record ("AR") 9. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 9. Hickam requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 9. On May 20, 2009, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Hickam testified. AR 16-30. On September 2, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 7-15. On July 21, 2010, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-3. This action followed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence, or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

"Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance -- it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523. In determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the Court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such benefits, "only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22, 124 S. Ct. 376, 157 L. Ed. 2d 333 (2003).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Hickam met the insured status requirements through March 31, 2007. AR 9, 11.

Hickam had the following severe combination of impairments: "depressive disorder, not otherwise specified and history of drug and alcohol abuse in allegedly short term remission." AR 11. Hickam had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following non-exertional limitations: "understand, remember or complete simple and complex commands with no significant limitations, interact appropriately with supervisors, co-workers, or the public with no limitations, comply with job rules such as safety and attendance with no significant limitations, respond to change in the ...


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