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Marcia C. Macias De Alvarez v. Michael J. Astrue

January 26, 2012

MARCIA C. MACIAS DE ALVAREZ, 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

Plaintiff ("Alvarez") 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 11 and March 3, 2011. (Dkt. Nos. 6, 7.) On October 4, 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 remands this matter to the Commissioner for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Alvarez filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits on September 6 and September 20, 2007, respectively. Administrative Record ("AR") 18. Both applications alleged an onset date of June 1, 2003*fn1 and were denied initially. AR 18. Alvarez requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 69. On July 23, 2009, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Alvarez*fn2 and a vocational expert testified. AR 29-58. On August 27, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 12-28. On January 11, 2011, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-4. 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. ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Alvarez met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2008. AR 20. Alvarez had the following severe impairments: "cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease/spondylosis; carpal tunnel syndrome, and depressive disorder, not otherwise specified." Id.

Alvarez had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than the full range of medium work in that "she can exert 20 to 50 pounds of force occasionally and/or 10 to 20 pounds of force frequently and/or greater than negligible up to 10 pounds of force constantly to move objects." AR 22. Her "[p]hysical demand requirements are in excess of those for light work." Id. She can "perform work that does not require climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but may require frequent climbing of ramps or stairs. She can also perform work that requires no more than frequent stooping and crouching, but no more than occasional kneeling and crawling." Id. She "can frequently finger objects (i.e., fine manipulation), but not finger objects smaller than a coin." Id. "She can perform work that does not involve any concentrated exposure to hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, or other high risk, hazardous or unsafe conditions." Id.

Alvarez is unable to perform her past relevant work. AR 26. However, "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform" such as packager (with 50% erosion of the occupational base), laundry worker II, and dining room attendant. AR 26-27.

C. Examining and Non-Examining Physicians

Alvarez contends that, although the ALJ stated he gave considerable weight to the opinions of physicians who treated or examined her, the ALJ's decision is inconsistent with the medical record. (JS at 4.) The only "examples" cited by Alvarez involve the ALJ's ...


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