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Valentina Peralta Hoffman v. Michael J. Astrue

March 24, 2012

VALENTINA PERALTA HOFFMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

This social security action was submitted to the court without oral argument for ruling on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, plaintiff's motion is denied, defendant's motion is granted, and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) is affirmed.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 9, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act), alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2004.*fn1 (Transcript (Tr.) at 34-35, 101.) Plaintiff's application was denied initially on October 09, 2008, and upon reconsideration on December 30, 2008. (Id. at 50-53, 64-68.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on November 17, 2009. (Id. at 854-918.) Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the administrative hearing. In a decision issued on November 25, 2009, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. at 21.) The ALJ entered the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2007.

2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 1, 2004, through her date last insured of December 31, 2007 (20 C.F.R. § 404.1571, et seq.).

3. Through the date of last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, mild degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with cervical radiculopathy, and mild carpal tunnel syndrome (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)).

4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except she can lift and carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally, with occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling, and occasional use of the dominant right upper extremity to handle and finger small objects. The claimant is limited to simple, routine, one to two-step work equating to unskilled work.

6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565).

7. The claimant was born on July 25, 1955, and was fifty-two years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the date last insured (20 C.F.R. § 404.1563).

8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 404.1564).

9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled," whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).

10. Through the date of last insured, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).

11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 1, 2004, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2007, the date last insured (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)).

(Id. at 16-21.)

On July 27, 2010, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Id. at 9-9b.) Plaintiff sought judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing the complaint in this action on September 3, 2010.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and the proper legal standards were applied. Schneider v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 223 F.3d 968, 973 (9th Cir. 2000); Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Morgan, 169 F.3d at 599); Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).

A reviewing court must consider the record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion. Jones, 760 F.2d at 995. The court may not affirm the ALJ's decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence. Id.; see also Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). If substantial evidence supports the administrative findings, or if there is conflicting evidence supporting a finding of either disability or non-disability, the finding of the ALJ is conclusive, Sprague v. Bowen, 812 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (9th Cir. 1987), and may be set aside only if an improper legal standard was applied in weighing the evidence, Burkhart v. Bowen, 856 F.2d 1335, 1338 (9th Cir. 1988).

In determining whether or not a claimant is disabled, the ALJ should apply the five-step sequential evaluation process established under Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Sections 404.1520 and 416.920. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The five-step process has been summarized as follows:

Step one: Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity? If so, the claimant is found not disabled. If not, proceed to step two.

Step two: Does the claimant have a "severe" impairment? If so, proceed to step three. If not, then a finding of not disabled is appropriate.

Step three: Does the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meet or equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If so, the claimant is automatically determined disabled. If not, proceed to step four.

Step four: Is the claimant capable of performing his past work? If so, the claimant is not disabled. ...


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