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Patricia Murray v. Michael J. Astrue

February 8, 2012

PATRICIA MURRAY,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on May 16, 2011, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). On June 10, 2011, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") on January 17, 2012, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; and the Commissioner requests that his decision be affirmed or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 5-8.) The Court has taken the parties' Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On July 13, 2007, plaintiff filed an application for SSI. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 9.) Plaintiff, who was born on October 8, 1961 (A.R. 99),*fn1 claims to have been disabled since April 20, 2007 (A.R. 9), due to bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and non-cardiac chest pain (A.R. 60, 65). Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a housekeeper. (A.R. 18.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 9, 60-70), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 71). On June 29, 2009, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Joseph D. Schloss (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 9, 24-41.) Vocational expert David A. Rinhart also testified. (Id.) On November 24, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 9-19), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). That decision is now at issue in this action.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 13, 2007, her application date. (A.R. 11.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the following severe impairments:

"Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, [and] S/P Carpal Tunnel Syndrome." (Id.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff does not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926). (A.R. 15.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), with the following exceptions: "[plaintiff] is able to frequently perform gross hand and fine motor finger movements; and is moderately limited in her ability to understand, remember, and carryout [sic] detailed instructions and set realistic goals or make plans independently of others." (A.R. 16.)

The ALJ determined that plaintiff "is capable of performing [her] past relevant work as a housekeeper," because "[t]his work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by [plaintiff's RFC]." (A.R. 18.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since July 13, 2007, the date her SSI application was filed. (Id.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). "While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those 'reasonably drawn from the record' will suffice." Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" ...


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