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Manuela F. Baltazar v. Michael J. Astrue

June 19, 2012

MANUELA F. BALTAZAR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Mcdermott United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS

PROCEEDINGS

On October 6, 2011, Manuela F. Baltazar ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on February 24, 2012. On May 10, 2012, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS"). The matter is now ready for decision.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision must be reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this Memorandum Opinion and Order and with law.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on June 27, 1949, and was 53 years old on her alleged disability onset date of May 8, 2003. (AR 55, 59.) Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits on March 25, 2004 (AR 55-58), and claims she is disabled due to a back injury. (AR 86.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date. (AR 24, 86.)

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on August 19, 2004. (AR 42-47.) Plaintiff then filed a timely request for hearing on October 6, 2004. (AR 48.) Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing held on January 19, 2006, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR 397-422.) The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on May 16, 2006. (AR 21-25.) After the Appeals Council denied review (AR 5-7), this Court vacated the Commissioner's decision and remanded for further proceedings. (AR 443-59.)

On remand, a different ALJ, David Marcus, conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. (AR 639-68.) The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on March 1, 2010. (AR 434-42.) On July 14, 2011, the Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction over the ALJ's decision. (AR 423-25.) Plaintiff then filed this action.

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, there are two disputed issues: whether the ALJ properly evaluated the opinions of (1) treating physician Dr. Smith, and (2) examining physician Dr. Kadaba.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper legal standards).

Substantial evidence means "'more than a mere scintilla,' but less than a preponderance." Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a 'specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins, 466 ...


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