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Ronald Dean Isabel v. Michael J. Astrue

March 27, 2012

RONALD DEAN ISABEL,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carla M. Woehrle United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

The parties have consented, under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's denial of disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. For the reasons stated below, the Magistrate Judge finds that this matter should be reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings consistent with this decision and order.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Ronald Dean Isabel, was born on October 14, 1979, and was 29-years old at the time of his administrative hearing.

[Administrative Record ("AR") 153.] He has at least a high school education and past work experience as Construction Superintendent.[AR 165-171.] Plaintiff alleges disability due to headaches, and due to extreme pain in his neck, lower/mid-level back, left shoulder, left wrist, and head. [AR 165.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

On April 15, 2011, the complaint was filed. [Docket no. 1.] On October 26, 2011, Defendant filed an answer and lodged a copy of the certified administrative record. [Docket nos. 12, 13.] On December 22, 2011, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation ("JS") identifying matters not in dispute, issues in dispute, the positions of the parties, and the relief sought by each party. [Docket no. 14.] This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On May 3, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of DIB and SSI alleging disability beginning March 22, 2006. [AR 140-56.] After the application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. On April 27, 2009, Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing conducted by Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mary L. Everstine. [AR 47-70].] At the hearing Plaintiff amended the alleged onset date to February 2, 2007. Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from Plaintiff, and lay witness (Plaintiff's mother), Carol S. Hawkins. Plaintiff submitted additional medical documentation and a supplemental video hearing was held on July 21, 2009. At the supplemental hearing, the ALJ took testimony from vocational expert ("VE") Elizabeth Cireeso. [AR 38-45.]

The ALJ ultimately denied benefits in an administrative decision dated September 17, 2009. [AR 22-33.] When the Appeals Council denied review on February 25, 2011, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. [AR 9-14.] This action followed.

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's (or ALJ's) findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and supported by substantial evidence. However, if the court determines that a finding is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, the court may reject the finding and set aside the decision to deny benefits. See Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001); Tonapetyan v. Halter, 242 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2001); Osenbrock v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1157, 1162 (9th Cir. 2001); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995)(per curiam). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance." Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720. It is "relevant evidence which a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a 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." Id. "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Reddick, 157 F.3d at 720-721; see also Osenbrock, 240 F.3d at 1162.

V. DISCUSSION

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION

To be eligible for disability benefits a claimant must demonstrate a medically determinable impairment which prevents the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity and which is expected to result in death or to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. Tackett, ...


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