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Irma Salinas v. Michael J. Astrue

April 23, 2012

IRMA SALINAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheri Pym United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On June 3, 2011, plaintiff Irma Salinas filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue, seeking a review of a denial of Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Both plaintiff and defendant have consented to proceed for all purposes before the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties' briefing is now complete, and the court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

The sole issue presented for decision here is whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly evaluated plaintiff's credibility and subjective symptoms.

Pl.'s Mem. at 4-14; Def.'s Mem. at 3-8. Having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' written submissions and the Administrative Record ("AR"), the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ appropriately discounted plaintiff's credibility and her subjective complaints based upon clear and convincing reasons. The court therefore affirms the Commissioner's decision denying benefits.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was fifty years old on the date of her April 6, 2010 administrative hearing, has a high school degree and some college education. See AR at 56, 206. Her past relevant work includes employment as a typist, administrative clerk, and cashier. Id. at 56-60, 72-73.

Plaintiff applied for DIB on July 2, 2008, alleging that she has been disabled since May 8, 2007 due to mild osteoarthritis, and lower back injury and pain. See AR at 21, 80, 85. Plaintiff's application was denied initially, after which she filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 80, 85-89, 90-94.

A total of three administrative hearings were held. The first two hearings -- held on May 11 and October 27, 2009 -- were continued to allow for additional medical evidence to be submitted. AR at 39-46, 49-52. On April 6, 2010, plaintiff, proceeding pro se, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 55-68, 71-72, 74, 76-78. The ALJ also heard testimony from Dr. Thomas J. Maxwell, a medical expert ("ME"), and Rheta Baron King, a vocational expert ("VE"). Id. at 68-71, 72-78; see also id. at 140-43, 144. On May 25, 2010, the ALJ denied plaintiff's request for benefits. Id. at 21-34.

Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity from May 8, 2007 through June 2008. AR at 24. The ALJ also found that plaintiff "did not engage in substantial gainful activity . . . from July 2008 through the present." Id. at 25 (emphasis omitted).

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffers from severe medically determinable impairments consisting of: "degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine; degenerative joint disease of the lumbosacral spine; and a history of being overweight." AR at 25 (emphasis omitted). The ALJ also found that plaintiff suffers from a depressive disorder, but that this impairment is non-severe. Id.

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence does not demonstrate that plaintiff's impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equal the severity of any listing set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix

1. AR at 26.

The ALJ then assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and 1/ determined that she can lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds ...


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