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Steven Oviatt v. Michael J. Astrue

February 29, 2012

STEVEN OVIATT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Abrams United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed this action on July 1, 2011, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his application for Disability Insurance Benefits. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on July 18, 2011. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on February 27, 2012, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issue in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on May 23, 1959. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 52-53.] He obtained his G.E.D. (general educational development) certificate and has completed two years of college. [AR at 82, 90.] Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as, among other things, a carpet salesman, an aircraft mechanic, and a sheet metal technician. [AR at 77, 86-87, 95-102.]

On November 4, 2004, plaintiff protectively filed his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), alleging that he has been unable to work since December 3, 2003, due to depression, hearing loss, chest, left shoulder, and arm pain, as well as back, stomach, ear, and left hand problems. [AR at 54, 59, 61, 75-91.] After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 52-66.] A hearing was held on January 16, 2007, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 570-83.] A supplemental hearing was held on May 31, 2007, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and again testified on his own behalf. [AR at 584-613.] On June 7, 2007, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 14-21.] On October 2, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. [AR at 6-9.] On November 6, 2007, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court in Case No. ED CV 07-1396-PLA. [See AR at 662-73.] On December 4, 2008, the Court entered judgment for plaintiff and remanded the case back to the Commissioner for further proceedings. [AR at 661-73.]

On July 5, 2007, plaintiff filed a subsequent application for Disability Insurance Benefits and protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income payments, based on which plaintiff was found disabled as of June 7, 2007, by the state agency. [See AR at 676.] On January 9, 2009, the Appeals Council found that this "favorable determination by the state agency ... invades the period previously adjudicated by the [ALJ]," adopted the state agency's allowance for the period beginning with June 8, 2007, and remanded the case involving plaintiff's 2004 application to the ALJ to determine plaintiff's disability from December 3, 2003, his alleged disability onset date, to June 7, 2007, the date the state agency found plaintiff disabled for the purpose of his 2007 applications. [See AR at 676-77, 745.]

On remand, the ALJ held another hearing on December 16, 2009, and on May 24, 2010, again found plaintiff not disabled. [AR at 634-48, 1162-90.] On June 21, 2010, plaintiff filed written exceptions to the ALJ's decision. [See AR at 745.] On September 24, 2010, the Appeals Council remanded the case to a second ALJ. [See AR at 745-47.] On March 31, 2011, a hearing was held before the second ALJ, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 1191-1218.] Two medical experts and a vocational expert ("VE") also testified. [AR at 1198-1217.] On April 15, 2011, the second ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant period. [AR at 617-28.] This action followed.

III. 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 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).

In this context, the term "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; see also Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. 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; Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). 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; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1258.

IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

Persons are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at ...


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