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Elmer L. Meek, Jr v. Michael J. Astrue

March 9, 2012

ELMER L. MEEK, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

PROCEEDINGS

On March 11, 2011, Elmer L. Meek, Jr. ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Social Security disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer to the Complaint on September 12, 2011. On November 14, 2011, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS").

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision shouldbe affirmed and this case dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 38 year old male who filed an application for Social Security disability and disability insurance benefits on June 27, 2007, alleging disability beginning June 3, 2003. (AR 32.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since that date. (AR 34.)

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on October 15, 2007, and on reconsideration on February 29, 2008. (AR 32.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing, which was held on June 11, 2009, in San Bernardino, California, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") F. Keith Varni. (AR 32, 54-77.) Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing. (AR 32.) Claimant was represented by counsel. (AR 32.)

The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on September 28, 2009. (AR 32-39.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 14, 2011. (AR 3-5.) The Appeals Council denied a request to reopen on February 4, 2011. (AR 1-2.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, the issues Plaintiff raises as grounds for reversal and remand are as follows:

1. Whether the ALJ erred in rejecting the functional capacity assessments of treating physician Dr. Obrowski and in mischaracterizing those of treating orthopedist Dr. Einbund.

2. Whether the assessment of examining orthopedist Dr. Styner was rejected by reference to legally adequate rationales.

3. Whether the ALJ's finding that the testimony of Plaintiff and his wife is not credible is based on a proper application of the relevant legal standards and is otherwise supported by substantial evidence.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper legal standards).

Substantial evidence means "'more than a mere scintilla,' but less than a preponderance." Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION

The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 423(d) (1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The ...


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