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Marian Gahie v. Michael J. Astrue

February 23, 2012

MARIAN GAHIE, 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 Marian Gahie filed a complaint on March 2, 2010. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on April 7, 2010, and February 22, 2012. (Dkt. Nos. 6, 17.) On January 14, 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 reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands this matter for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 3, 2007, Gahie filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging an onset date of December 13, 2003. Administrative Record ("AR") 15. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id.

An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on March 17, 2009, at which Gahie and a vocational expert ("VE") testified.*fn1 AR 15. On July 7, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 12-21. On November 25, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Gahie's request for review. AR 4-7.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or 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).

In this context, "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 a conclusion." Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009) (citation and quotation marks omitted); Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). When 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. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person is disabled and eligible for 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. Presumption of Continuing Disability

The principle of res judicata applies to administrative decisions, albeit less rigidly than in judicial proceedings. See Chavez v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 691, 693 (9th Cir. 1988). The first ALJ's "findings concerning the claimant's residual functional capacity, education, and work experience are entitled to some res judicata consideration in subsequent proceedings." Id. at 694.In a subsequent application for benefits, the claimant "must prove 'changed circumstances.'" Id. at 693. Changed circumstances may include a change in age category, a claim of impairment not considered in the previous application(s), or an increase in the severity of an existing impairment. Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 827-28 (9th Cir. 1995).

In this case, the ALJ noted that a prior ALJ issued a decision dated December 12, 2003 that limited Gahie to "light work that would not require more than occasional climbing and crawling and no repetitive or frequent neck extension." AR 16. With this residual functional capacity ("RFC"), Gahie could perform her past relevant work as a grant ...


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