Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Shannon E. Santana v. Michael J. Astrue

April 4, 2012


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


Plaintiff Shannon Santana seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Social Security Commissioner is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Facts and Procedural Background

Plaintiff was born on October 16, 1969. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 108.) She completed high school and has work experience as a customer service representative, wardrobe assistant and telephone solicitor. (AR at 25, 142.) Plaintiff filed her applications for benefits on November 21, 2008, alleging disability beginning May 4, 2004, due to multiple sclerosis and affective mood disorders. (AR at 69, 108, 111.) Her application was denied initially on April 8, 2009. (AR at 70-75.) An administrative hearing was held on April 19, 2010, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Michael J. Kopicki. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified as did a vocational expert ("VE"). (AR at 33-67.) ALJ Kopicki issued an unfavorable decision on June 21, 2010. (AR 17-27.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: multiple sclerosis, by history; history of right tibia and fibula fractures with residual osteoarthritis; and a mood disorder. (AR at 19.) However, he found that these impairments did not meet the requirements of a listed impairment found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR at 20.)

The ALJ further found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) (lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally, 25 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk about six hours in an eight hour workday and sit about six hours in an eight hour workday) except that she must avoid moderate exposure to extreme temperatures and to hazards, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights, and she is limited to simple, routine tasks." (AR at 22.) The ALJ concluded that, although Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work, there were jobs in the national economy which Plaintiff could perform, and therefore Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR at 26.)

The Appeals Council denied review on July 7, 2011 (AR at 1-4), and Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review. On March 21, 2012, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") of disputed facts and issues, including the following claims of error:

(1) the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinions of the treating, examining and non-examining physicians; and (2) the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's credibility and subjective testimony. (Joint Stip. at 3.) Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse and order an award of benefits, or in the alternative, remand for further administrative proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 14-15.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. (Joint Stip. at 15.)

After reviewing the parties' respective contentions and the record as a whole, the Court finds Plaintiff's contention regarding the ALJ's failure to make a proper credibility determination to be meritorious and remands this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

II. 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 decision 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. 1999); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is evidence that a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007)(citing 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. Finally, the Court may not reverse an ALJ's decision based on an error that is harmless. Molina v. Astrue, --- F.3d ----, 2012 WL 1071637 at *4 (9th Cir., Apr. 2, 2012) (citing Stout v. Comm'r, Soc. Sec. Admin, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055-56 (9th Cir. 2006)).

III. Discussion

A. The ALJ Improperly Discredited Plaintiff's Subjective Symptom Testimony*fn1

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing reasons for discrediting her subjective symptom testimony. (Joint Stip. at 9.) Plaintiff testified at the administrative hearing to the following symptoms and functional limitations: she has difficulty organizing and making decisions; she suffers from anxiety; she has body weakness and cannot stand for more than 45 minutes; she has hand cramping, double vision and dizziness; her left hand frequently becomes numb; and she has left foot drop that causes her to frequently stumble and fall. (AR at 38-47.)

To determine whether a claimant's testimony about subjective pain or symptoms is credible, an ALJ must engage in a two-step analysis. Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Lingenfelter 504 F.3d at 1035-36). First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has presented objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment which could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged pain or other symptoms. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1036. "[O]nce the claimant produces objective medical evidence of an underlying impairment, an adjudicator may not reject a claimant's subjective complaints based solely on a lack of objective medical evidence to fully corroborate the alleged severity of pain." Bunnell v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d 341, 345 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc). To the extent that an individual's claims of functional limitations and restrictions due to alleged pain is ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.