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Tina Hong Nguyen v. Michael J. Astrue

January 3, 2012

TINA HONG NGUYEN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. Woehrle United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's denial of supplemental security income (SSI) benefits and disability insurance benefits (DIB). The court finds this matter should be reversed and remanded for payment of benefits.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on February 2, 1954, and was 54 years old at the time of her administrative hearing. [Administrative Record ("AR") 112.] She speaks limited English, completed a fourth-grade education in Vietnam, and has past relevant work has a dishwasher and seamstress. [AR 20.] Plaintiff alleges disability due to thyroid disorder, high blood pressure, depression, and arthritis. [AR 133.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

On October 6, 2011, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff applied for SSI and DIB benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act on October 1, 2006, alleging disability since June 26, 2006. [AR 112-116.] After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing. Her hearing was held on August 5, 2008, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Keith Dietterle. [AR 35-54.] Plaintiff, with counsel, appeared and testified with the aid of an interpreter. [AR 38-51.] The ALJ also received testimony from vocational expert ("VE") Jeanine Metildi. [AR 51-54.]

In a written decision issued October 9, 2008, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. [AR 21.] When the Appeals Council denied review [AR 5-7] the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. These proceedings followed.

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's (or ALJ's) findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. However, if the court determines that a finding is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the finding and set aside the decision to deny benefits. See Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001); Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995)(per curiam). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. It is "relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must review the administrative record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Id. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-721; see also Osenbrock, 240 F.3d at 1162.

V. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

To be eligible for disability benefits a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable impairment which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity and which is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Tackett, ...


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