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Lorraine R. Velasquez v. Michael J. Astrue

February 15, 2012

LORRAINE R. VELASQUEZ,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. WOEHRLEUnited 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") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The court finds this matter should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this decision and order.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Lorraine R. Velasquez was born on December 1, 1951, and was 56 years old on the date her application was protectively filed. [Administrative Record ("AR") 18.] Plaintiff has a limited education, is able to communicate in English, and has past work experience as a laborer. [AR 18, 106.] Plaintiff alleges disability due to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, chest pain, and joint pain. [AR 67, 101-02.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff's complaint was lodged on March 24, 2011, and filed on April 7, 2011. On January 18, 2012, 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 protectively filed for SSI on January 25, 2008, alleging disability since February 14, 2001. [AR 66-86.] The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application. [AR 13, 25-29.] At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert S. Eisman on March 1, 2010. [AR 232-82.] Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at the hearing. [AR 237-66.] Vocational expert ("VE") June Hagen also testified at the hearing. [AR 266-77.]

The ALJ denied benefits in an administrative decision filed on March 11, 2010. [AR 13-20.] When the Appeals Council denied review on January 28, 2011, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 3-5.] This action 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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