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Blanca Maldonado v. Michael J. Astrue

May 29, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Howard R. Lloyd United States Magistrate Judge

** E-filed May 29, 2012 **



In this Social Security action, plaintiff Blanca Maldonado appeals a final decision by the Commissioner ("defendant") denying her application for Social Security disability insurance 18 benefits. Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The matter 19 is deemed fully briefed and submitted without oral argument. Upon consideration on the moving 20 papers, and for the reasons set for below, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is DENIED, and 21 defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed. 22 R. Civ. P. 73, all parties have expressly consented that all proceedings in this matter may be heard 23 and finally adjudicated by the undersigned.


Blanca Maldonado was 48 years old when the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") rendered 26 the decision under review in this action. Dkt. No. 11, p. 2-3 (Plaintiff's Motion for Summary 27 Judgment, or "Plaintiff's MSJ"); Administrative Record ("AR") 156 ("Proof of Age"). Her prior 28 work experience is as a commercial cleaner. AR 32. She claims disability since November 15, 2007, when she suffered a stroke. Plaintiff's MSJ, p. 4. Apparently, plaintiff ceased working 2 approximately two and a half years prior to the stroke. AR 264. 3

4 timely filed a request for hearing before an ALJ. Id. at 1-2. In a decision dated November 25, 2009, 5 the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. AR 33. She 6 evaluated plaintiff's claim of disability using the five-step sequential evaluation process for 7 disability required under federal regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (2007). At step one, she 8 found that Maldonado had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 15, 2007. AR 9 Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff's MSJ at 1. She 28. At step two, she found that plaintiff had a history of cerebral vascular accident and seizure 10 disorder and that these are "severe impairments." Id. But at step three, she concluded that plaintiff's impairments did not "meet[] or medically equal[] one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.F. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." AR 29. At step four, she found that Maldonado had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "a wide range of light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. 14 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except for the inability to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and the 15 need to avoid environments with exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous or moving 16 machinery." Id. Noting the inconsistency between her finding and the plaintiff's assertions as to the 17 intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms, the ALJ found that plaintiff's testimony 18 was "not credible" insofar as it contradicted the RFC finding. Id. at 30. At step five, the ALJ found 19 that Maldonado was not capable of performing past relevant work, but that she could perform "light, 20 unskilled work" such as housekeeping. AR 32-33. 21 22 the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of that decision. 23

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g), this court has the authority to review the Commissioner's 25 decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported 26 by substantial evidence or if it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Morgan v. 27 523 (9th Cir. 1995). In this context, the term "substantial evidence" means "more than a mere The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and the ALJ's decision became


Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999); Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 28 scintilla but less than a preponderance - it is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might 2 accept as adequate to support the conclusion." Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Drouin v. Sullivan, 3 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992). When determining whether substantial evidence exists to 4 support the Commissioner's decision, the court examines the administrative record as a whole, 5 considering adverse as well as supporting evidence. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. Where evidence 6 exists to support more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the decision of the 7


Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's finding on one basis-that the ALJ's determination that 10 plaintiff has no severe mental impairment was not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff's MSJ at 6. In support of this claim, plaintiff alleges that the ALJ misinterpreted the treatment records of certain of plaintiff's physicians and improperly discredited testimony by plaintiff's family and friends. Plaintiff also offers new medical records, some of which she submitted to the Appeals 14 Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1258.

Council when requesting review, and some of which post-date the Appeals Council's decision to 15 deny the request for review. Plaintiff's MSJ, Exh. A. Defendant asserts that the ALJ's findings were 16 supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. 17


In support of her claims, plaintiff presents new medical records that post-date the ALJ's 20 decision and argues that the court may consider this new evidence to determine whether the ALJ's 21 decision was supported by substantial evidence. She offers two categories of new medical records: 22

(1) those that postdate the ALJ's decision, but which she submitted to the Appeals Council when she 23 requested review of the ALJ's decision, and (2) newer ...

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