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Jennifer Ann Santos v. Michael J. Astrue

December 28, 2011


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


Jennifer Ann Santos ("Santos") filed this action on August 16, 2010. (Dkt. No. 3.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on September 3 and 14, 2010. (Dkt. Nos. 9, 10.) On May 11, 2011, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. (Dkt. No. 17.) The court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the court reverses and remands the decision of the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.



On October 15, 2007, Santos filed an application for supplemental security income benefits, alleging an onset date of May 3, 2000. Administrative Record ("AR") 16, 73-81. The application was denied.*fn1 AR 53. Santos requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 16. On July 15, 2009, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Santos appeared and testified. AR 40-52. The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on August 3, 2009. AR 13-26. On June 10, 2010, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-5. This action followed.



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.



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 Santos had the following severe impairments: "hepatitis C, history of back pain, anxiety, polysubstance addiction disorder, and a paranoid disorder." AR 18. Santos did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. Santos had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work, except that "she is limited to simple, routine tasks with limited public and co-worker contact."*fn2 AR 20. The ALJ found there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Santos could perform. AR 25.

C. Treating Physicians

Santos claims that the ALJ did not properly consider the opinions of her treating physician, Dr. Hakimian, and her treating psychologist, Dr. Baum.

An opinion of a treating physician is given more weight than the opinion of a non-treating physician. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 631 (9th Cir. 2007). When, as here, a treating physician's opinion is contradicted by another doctor, "the ALJ may not reject this opinion without providing specific and legitimate reasons supported by substantial evidence in the record. This can be done by setting out a detailed and thorough summary of the facts and conflicting clinical evidence, stating his interpretation thereof, and making findings." Id. at 632 (citations and internal quotations omitted). "When there is conflicting medical evidence, the Secretary must determine credibility and resolve the conflict." Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 956-57 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

1. Dr. Hakimian

The ALJ mentioned Dr. Hakimian's medical records in ...

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