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Regina Laura Tate v. Michael J. Astrue

April 11, 2012

REGINA LAURA TATE,
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 and supplemental security income. 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 Regina Laura Tate was born on May 15, 1950, and was 59-years old at the time of her administrative hearing. [Administrative Record ("AR") 17.] She has at least some high school education and past work experience as a caterer and an in-home care giver. [AR 89.]

Plaintiff alleges disability due to severe migraines; obesity; sciatic nerve damage; high blood pressure; an inability to lift heavy objects; an inability to sit, stand or walk for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time; and rotator cuff damage. [AR 87-88.]

II. PROCEEDINGS IN THIS COURT

Plaintiff's complaint in this matter was lodged on April 15, 2011, and filed on April 25, 2011. On November 9, 2011, defendant filed an answer and the certified administrative record. On February 21, 2012, 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. This matter has been taken under submission without oral argument.

III. PRIOR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On December 27, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning December 1, 2006. [AR 75.] After the applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on May 12, 2010, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert A. Evans. [AR 17-26.] Plaintiff appeared with counsel, and testimony was taken from Plaintiff, vocational expert ("VE") Ruth Arnish, and medical expert ("ME") Barbara Falcons. [AR 298.] The ALJ denied benefits in an administrative decision dated June 4, 2010. [AR 26.] When the Appeals Council denied review on February 15, 2011 [AR 4], the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. 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, 180 F.3d at 1098; Reddick, 157 F.3d at 721; 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

Disability claims are evaluated using a five-step test:

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 ...


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