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Michael Murrieta v. Michael J. Astrue

May 22, 2012

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



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer L. Thurston United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER DIRECTING ENTRY OF JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF DEFENDANT, MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, AND AGAINST PLAINTIFF MICHAEL MURRIETA

Carlos Molina ("Plaintiff") asserts he is entitled to a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff argues the administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred in evaluating the opinion of a non-examining physician. Therefore, Plaintiff seeks review of the administrative decision denying his claims for benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the administrative decision is AFFIRMED.

I. Procedural History*fn1

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI") on October 2, 2002. AR at 120-22, 495-97. These applications were denied on November 18, 2012, and Plaintiff did not file an appeal. Id. at 70-73.

On April 23, 2002, Plaintiff filed new applications for benefits. AR at 124-27, 499-502.

Social Security Administration denied his claims initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 74-83. 3

After requesting a hearing regarding his claims, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before an ALJ on 4 September 7, 2005. Id. at 506-29. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled and issued an order 5 denying benefits on December 8, 2005. Id. at 63-69. 6

Plaintiff requested review of the unfavorable decision by the Appeals Council, which 7 remanded the matter for the ALJ to re-contact Plaintiff‟s treating physician, consider lay witness 8 statement, obtain evidence from a vocational expert, and give further consideration to Plaintiff‟s 9 residual functional capacity. AR at 96-99. Accordingly, on October 18, 2006, the ALJ presided over a second hearing where Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. Id. at 530-66. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled, and issued an order denying benefits on January 26, 2007. Id. at 15-24. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ‟s decision by the Appeals Council of Social Security, which was denied on July 8, 2008. Id. at 7-9. Therefore, the ALJ‟s determination became the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). Plaintiff requested judicial review of the Commissioner‟s decision on September 5, 2008.

While the appeal was pending before this Court, Plaintiff filed a third set of applications for a period of disability and DIB on October 14, 2008, as well as an application for SSI on October 28, 2008. AR at 621. On July 20, 2009, the Court remanded Plaintiff‟s second set of applications for further administrative proceedings. Id. at 584-96. In accordance with the Court‟s remand order, "the Appeals Council vacate[d] the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security and remand[ed] the case to an Administrative Law Judge for further proceedings consistent with the order of the court." Id. at 621. The Appeals Council noted the Commissioner granted Plaintiff‟s third application for SSI benefits, and found him disabled as of October 14, 2008. Id. at 621.

Upon the remand of Plaintiff‟s second set of applications, the ALJ considered whether Plaintiff was disabled during the "closed period" of September 2002 to October 14, 2008. AR at 573. On July 9, 2010, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 748. The ALJ noted Plaintiff was required to show his disability began on or before December 31, 2007, which was his date last insured. Id. The ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled during this time, and issued an order denying benefits for the closed period on August 6, 2010. Id. at 573-81. Plaintiff requested review of the 2 decision by the Appeals Council, which was denied. Id. at 567-69. Therefore, the ALJ‟s 3 determination shat Plaintiff was not disabled from September 2002 to October 14, 2008 became the 4 final decision of the Commissioner on Plaintiff‟s second set of applications for benefits. 5

II. Standard of Review 6

District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by 7 the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of fact, 8 such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner‟s 9 decision is supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The ALJ‟s determination that the claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the proper legal standards were applied and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).

Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as a whole must be considered, because "[t]he court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence ...


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