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Juan Carlos Torres v. Michael J. Astrue

March 27, 2012

JUAN CARLOS TORRES,
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 ("Torres") filed this action on February 22, 2011. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on March 14 and 22, 2011. (Dkt. Nos. 6, 7.) On November 29, 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 affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On November 5, 2007, Torres filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging an onset date of September 30, 2006. Administrative Record ("AR") 15, 112-14, 120-22. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 15, 84-85. Torres requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 102. On August 24, 2009, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Torres, a medical expert, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 51-83. On November 2, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 12-26. On December 22, 2010, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 2-4. This action followed.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this court reviews 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).

"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. In 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. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III.

DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled and is 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. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Torres has the severe impairments of "status post stroke on September 30, 2006, with residual right sided weakness; torn meniscus in the right knee; and mood disorder associated with generalized medical condition." AR 17. He has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work. AR 21. He can stand and walk 4 hours in an 8 hour workday, sit 6 hours in an 8 hour workday, and lift/ carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. Id. He is limited to occasional pushing and pulling, including operation of hand and foot controls, with the right upper and right lower extremities. Id. He is limited to occasional climbing, crouching, crawling and kneeling. Id. He is limited to the performance of simple, repetitive tasks. Id. Torres is unable to perform any past relevant work, but there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform. AR 24-25.

C. Step Five of the Sequential Analysis

At step five, the Commissioner bears the burden of demonstrating there is other work in significant numbers in the national economy the claimant can do. Lounsburry v. Barnhart, 468 F.3d 1111, 1114 (9th Cir. 2006). If the Commissioner satisfies this burden, the claimant is not disabled and not entitled to disability benefits. If the Commissioner cannot meet this burden, the claimant is "disabled" and entitled to disability benefits. Id. The Commissioner can meet the burden of showing that there is other work in 'significant numbers' in the national economy that claimant can do by eliciting the testimony of a vocational expert. Id.

1. Simple, Repetitive Tasks Limitation

Torres contends that the ALJ erroneously relied on the VE's testimony, which contradicts the Dictionary of ...


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