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Shani Gutierrez v. Michael J. Astrue

May 25, 2012

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



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles F. Eick United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on October 25, 2011, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. The parties filed a consent to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge on November 8, 2011.

Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on March 23, 2012.*fn1

Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on April 19, 2012.

The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; "Order," filed October 27, 2011.

BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

Plaintiff alleges disability since August 9, 2007, based on alleged "chronic [hepatitis] C, [cirrhosis] of the liver, severe fatigue, complications breathing, bones ache, muscle cramps[,] [d]epression and anxiety" (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 114-121, 135).*fn2 An administrative law judge ("ALJ") examined the record and heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert (A.R. 21-42).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe cirrhosis of the liver secondary to hepatitis C, but retains the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of medium work, limited only by not working with heavy machinery (A.R. 13-14). The ALJ found, inter alia, that with these limitations Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a nurse assistant, quality control inspector, assembler of small products, and general clerk "as actually and generally performed" (A.R. 16-17 (adopting vocational expert testimony at A.R. 36-40)). Consequently, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. Id. The Appeals Council denied review (A.R. 1-3).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), this Court reviews the Administration's decision to determine if: (1) the Administration's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Administration used correct legal standards. See Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008); Hoopai v. Astrue, 499 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and quotations omitted); see also Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006).

This Court "may not affirm [the Administration's] decision simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence, but must also consider evidence that detracts from [the Administration's] conclusion." Ray v. Bowen, 813 F.2d 914, 915 (9th Cir. 1987) (citation and quotations omitted); see Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028 (9th Cir. 2007) (same). However, the Court cannot disturb findings supported by substantial evidence, even though there may exist other evidence supporting Plaintiff's claim. See Torske v. Richardson, 484 F.2d 59, 60 (9th Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 417 U.S. 933 (1974); Harvey v. Richardson, 451 F.2d 589, 590 (9th Cir. 1971).

DISCUSSION

After consideration of the record as a whole, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied. The Administration's findings are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material*fn3 legal error. Plaintiff's contrary contentions are unavailing.

I. Substantial Evidence Supports the Conclusion Plaintiff Can Work.

Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is not disabled. Consultative examiners found Plaintiff to be essentially unimpaired, and Plaintiff's treating physician offered no opinion regarding Plaintiff's functional capacity.

A. Summary of the Medical Record

Dr. Rakesh Chopra began treating Plaintiff in January 2007 for hepatitis, which was discovered during a routine physical examination (A.R. 277-78). Dr. Chopra's available treatment records consist primarily of laboratory reports from blood tests and letters (A.R. 219-78). A liver core biopsy performed on March 6, 2007, showed findings suggestive of chronic hepatitis C, grade 2-3, with some fibrosis (A.R. 187-88; see also A.R. 230-31 (ultrasound of same date showing no evidence of intrapelvic abnormality)).

Blood tests also showed evidence of liver disease. Plaintiff's "HCV RNA, Qualitative" measures were well above the reference range. See A.R. 222, 240, 250 (tests showing virus levels of 724,000, 240,000, and 162,000, over the course of Plaintiff's treatment).*fn4

Hepatic function blood panels from January and August 2007, and from April and May 2008, showed that Plaintiff's "AST" and "ALT" levels were elevated above the reference ranges, whereas a test from January 2008 showed AST and ALT levels within the reference ranges (A.R. 236, 238, 241, 245, 251).*fn5 Other tests from August and September 2007 showed elevated AST levels only (A.R. 242-44). A hepatic function blood panel from February 18, 2009, showed that Plaintiff's albumin was slightly below the reference range, but otherwise her results were within the reference ranges, including her AST and ALT levels (A.R. 220). When Plaintiff was tested again on March 31, 2009, her hepatic ...


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