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James Newman v. Michael J. Astrue

May 23, 2012

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



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alicia G. Rosenberg United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff James Newman filed this action on April 7, 2011. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on April 20 and 29, 2011. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 10.) On December 5, 2011, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. The court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands this matter for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 15, 2007, Newman filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging an onset date of November 7, 2006.*fn1 AR 9, 117-19. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 9, 71-72. Newman requested a hearing before an ALJ. AR 84. On May 28, 2009, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Newman and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 19-56. On November 20, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 6-18. On March 10, 2011, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-4. This action followed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this court reviews the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence, or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

"Substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance -- it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523. In determining whether substantial evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the court examines the administrative record as a whole, considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled and is eligible for benefits, "only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22, 124 S. Ct. 376, 157 L. Ed. 2d 333 (2003).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Newman has the severe impairments of asthma, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, arthritis of the neck and shoulders, low back pain, organic mood disorder, personality disorder, and depression. AR 11. He has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. AR 12. The ALJ adopted the limitations from the November 6, 2006 decision:

[T]he claimant can stand and/or walk six hours out of an eight-hour work day and sit for six hours with normal breaks every two hours; [t]he claimant can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; he can occasionally bend and stoop; he can climb stairs, but is precluded from climbing ladders[,] working at heights[,] or doing jobs that require balance; he cannot do work above shoulder level on either side; he can do occasional neck motion but should avoid extreme range of motion; he can maintain a fixed head position for 15 to 30 minutes occasionally, but at other times, his head should be comfortable for him; the claimant's work environment should be air-conditioned and free of excessive dust, odors, smoke, smog, fumes and other inhaled pollutants; he cannot operate motorized equipment; ...


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