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Lisa M. Redd v. Michael J. Astrue

March 13, 2012

LISA M. REDD,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marc L. Goldman United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Lisa M. Redd seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and the action is dismissed with prejudice.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on April 30, 1968. (AR at 62). She has relevant work experience as a home attendant and a waitress. (AR at 29). Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on January 6, 2009, alleging disability beginning November 1, 2007. (AR at 23). The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application initially on April 2, 2009. (AR at 23).

A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") David G. Marcus on May 24, 2010. (AR at 23). Plaintiff, appearing with an attorney, testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). (AR at 23). The ALJ issued a decision on July 7, 2010, denying Plaintiff's application. (AR at 18-25). The ALJ found that although Plaintiff suffers from bipolar disorder, a mood disorder not otherwise specified, and asthma, she has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a reduced range of light work "involving simple repetitive tasks with only occasional interaction with the public, co-workers and supervisors." Relying on the testimony of the VE, the ALJ determined that the RFC allows her to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (AR at 30). The Appeals Council denied review on June 17, 2011 (AR at 1-3).

Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review on July 27, 2011. The parties filed a joint statement of disputed issues ("Joint Stip.") on March 1, 2012. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ improperly assessed her RFC for the mental requirements of work activity as described by consulting physician Dr. Larisa Levin, and that he gave insufficient weight to the opinion of Yoshado Lang, Ph.D., the treating psychologist. (Joint Stip. at 4-9). Plaintiff seeks reversal and payment of benefits, or alternatively, remand for further administrative proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 17). The Defendant requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed or, if the Court finds that the ALJ committed reversible error, that the Court remand for further administrative proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 18).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision of the Commissioner or ALJ must be upheld unless "the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1990); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson

v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing 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." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). "If the evidence can support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882.

III. Analysis

A. The ALJ Properly Evaluated Plaintiff's Mental Impairments

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's RFC determination did not adequately take into account the mental limitations assessed by the psychiatric examiner Larisa Levin, M.D. (Joint Stip. at 4-5). She argues that to the extent the ALJ's RFC determination constituted a rejection of the opinion of Dr. Levin, he should have stated specific and legitimate reasons for the rejection. (Joint Stip. at 5).

Dr. Levin evaluated Plaintiff and summarized her findings in a report dated March 10, 2009. (AR at 183-89). In the report, Dr. Levin described Plaintiff as "moderately impaired" in the following six areas of function: (1) ability to relate and interact with supervisors, co-workers, and the public; (2) ability to maintain concentration and attention, persistence and pace; (3) her ability to associate with day-to-day work activity, including attendance and safety; (4) ability to adapt to the stresses common to a normal work environment; (5) ability to maintain regular attendance in the work place and perform work activities on a consistent basis; and (6) ability to perform work activities without special or additional supervision. (AR at 187-88).

In his decision, the ALJ stated that he accorded significant weight to Dr. Levin's findings. (AR at 28). The ALJ also gave great weight to the opinion of the state agency psychiatrist R. Tashjian, M.D., who reviewed Dr. Levin's opinion and made the finding that Plaintiff "can complete simple repetitive tasks with limited social contact." (AR at 190). Dr. Tashjian's findings were reflected in the ALJ's RFC determination that Plaintiff could perform a reduced range of light work "involving simple repetitive tasks with only occasional interaction with the public, co-workers and ...


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