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Lori Ann Barry v. Michael J. Astrue

May 18, 2012


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


Plaintiff Lori Ann Barry seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income benefits ("SSI"). For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and the action is dismissed with prejudice.


Plaintiff was born on February 18, 1968. (AR at 70). She has relevant work experience as a merchandise and sales attendant. (AR at 17). Plaintiff filed her applications for benefits on December 16, 2008, alleging disability beginning December 15, 2008, due to psychological impairments. (AR at 10, 164). The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's applications initially and upon reconsideration. (AR at 10).

A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Sharilyn Hopson on July 20, 2010. (AR at 10). Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert ("VE"). The ALJ issued a decision on September 13, 2010, denying Plaintiff's application. (AR at 10-18). The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: morbid obesity, major depressive disorder, anxiety, type 2 diabetes mellitus, adult attention deficit disorder ("ADD"), irritable bowel syndrome, and migraines. (AR at 13). Nevertheless, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work and is capable of performing her past relevant work. (AR at 17-18). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (AR at 1).

Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review on November 1, 2011. On May 2, 2012, the parties filed a joint statement of disputed issues ("Joint Stip."). Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in several respects. First, the ALJ failed to properly consider the relevant medical evidence, including the opinions of Melissa Darnell, a marriage and family therapist, and Bipin Patel, M.D., her treating psychiatrist, while improperly giving significant weight to the opinion of state examining physician Linda M. Smith, M.D. (Joint Stip. at 4-8). Second, the ALJ improperly assessed her credibility in considering her subjective complaints. (Joint Stip. at 12-14). Finally, the ALJ failed to properly consider the third party statements of claimant's friend, Juanita Medina. (Joint Stip. at 17-19).

Plaintiff seeks reversal and an award of benefits, or alternatively, remand for further administrative proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 21). Defendant requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed, or, if the Court finds that the ALJ committed reversible error, that the Court remand for further administrative proceedings. (Joint Stip. at 22).


Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner or ALJ'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. 1990); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. 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.

III. Analysis

A. The ALJ Appropriately Considered the Relevant Medical Evidence

1. The Opinion of Therapist Melissa Darnell

The record contains a brief letter from Plaintiff's therapist, Melissa Darnell, stating that she had been seeing Plaintiff on a biweekly basis for approximately five months. (AR at 331). The letter explains that Plaintiff suffers from irritable bowl syndrome, high blood pressure, diabetes, bipolar depression, anxiety disorder, and ADD. The letter further states that these mental health issues and medical conditions "interfere[] with [Plaintiff's] ability to obtain and then maintain full-time employment." (AR at 331). The record also contains several pages of notes from Ms. Darnell, which discuss treatment and the diagnosis that Plaintiff suffers from depression. (AR at 388-89, 395-96).

In her decision, the ALJ noted that she had considered the correspondence from Ms. Darnell, but that because it was not from an acceptable medical source, she did not have to give it the same consideration as she would to a qualifying medical source opinion. (AR at 17). As to Darnell's comments about Plaintiff's ability to maintain full-time employment, the ALJ ...

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