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Belva Gonzales v. Michael J. Astrue

March 30, 2012

BELVA GONZALES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are pending. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants the Commissioner's motion and denies plaintiff's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff formally applied for DIB and SSI on August 6, 2003, alleging that she had been disabled since September 28, 2001. Administrative Record ("AR") 29, 48. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 32, 40. On October 11, 2005, a hearing was held before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Mark C. Ramsey. Id. at 621.

The ALJ's April 26, 2006 decision found that plaintiff was not disabled under 216(I), 223, 1602, and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act.*fn1 Id. at 17-23. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on November 2, 2007. Id. at 7-9.

Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. Gonzales v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. Civ. S-08-0223 GGH. The case was remanded for further proceedings per the parties' stipulation. AR 681-682. The district court's order directed that the ALJ address the third-party statements of Arthur Gonzales, to evaluate plaintiff's subjective complaints, properly evaluate all medical evidence in the record, consult a vocational expert regarding the effect plaintiff's assessed limitations have on the occupational base, associate plaintiff's subsequent application,*fn2 and develop the record as needed. Id.

Pursuant to the district court's order, the ALJ held a subsequent hearing on November 16, 2009. Id. at 1117. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing, at which she and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. Id. at 1117-1159. The ALJ issued a decision on February 3, 2010, again finding that plaintiff was not disabled from September 28, 2001 through the date of the decision. Id. at 658-673. The ALJ made the following specific findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2004.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 28, 2001, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: residuals from a brain aneurysm or stroke, cognitive impairment and depression (20 CFR 404.1520©). ...

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she can perform no repetitive fine i.e. fingering manipulation with the left dominant hand and arm. She cannot write, but can lift and carry with her non-dominant right arm and hand. The claimant needs to be able to change position every 15-20 minutes for 1-2 minutes of movement about or around her work station. She can only perform simple repetitive tasks i.e. unskilled work. ...

6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965). ...

7. The claimant was born [in] 1964 and was 37 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).

8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).

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 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).

10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can performed (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)). ...

11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 28, 2001 through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g).

Id. at 661-73.

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on October 21, 2010, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Id. at 648-650.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

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 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); Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999).

The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. See Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521 (9th Cir. 1996). "'It means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson ...


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