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Julia Smith v. Michael J. Astrue

January 24, 2012

JULIA SMITH, 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

Julia Smith ("Smith") filed this action on February 3, 2011. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on February 14 and 17, 2011. (Dkt. Nos. 8-9.) On October 3, 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 December 14, 2005, Smith filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits, alleging an onset date of August 26, 2005.*fn1 Administrative Record ("AR") 429-36, 547-49. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 461-73. On October 24, 2007, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing. AR 491-510. On November 27, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 445-55. On February 19, 2008, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 512-15. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

Smith appealed the decision. Smith v. Astrue, 2009 WL 837892 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 30, 2009). On March 30, 2009, this court reversed the Commissioner's decision and remanded the matter at step five. AR 537-42. The ALJ was to clear up the confusion as to whether Smith's RFC contained any mental limitations and, if so, to consider Smith's argument that the jobs identified in the ALJ's decision were outside her RFC. AR 540-41.

On December 5, 2009, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to conduct further administrative proceedings consistent with the remand order, associate the claim file of the duplicate claim filed on December 27, 2007 with the claim on remand,*fn2 offer the claimant the opportunity for a hearing, take any further action needed to complete the administrative record, and issue a new decision. AR 545. At a March 25, 2010 hearing, the ALJ recused himself because he had issued two hearing decisions. AR 872-74.

On June 28, 2010, a different ALJ conducted a hearing at which Smith, her friend, two medical experts and a vocational expert testified. AR 875-920. On November 18, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 11-22. The decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 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 ...


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