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Fernando Leon v. Michael J. Astrue

June 26, 2012

FERNANDO LEON, 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 November 1, 2011, Fernando Leon ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on February 21, 2012. On June 5, 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 March 27, 1959, and was 38 years old on his alleged disability onset date of July 25, 1997. (AR 125, 132.) Plaintiff filed applications for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and SSI benefits on November 6, 2008 (AR 125-35), and claims he is disabled due to a back injury. (AR 149.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of July 25, 1997. (AR 25.)

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on January 9, 2009 (AR 90-94). Plaintiff then filed a timely request for hearing on January 19, 2009. (AR 95.) Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing held on March 30, 2010, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") David G. Marcus. (AR 49-84.) The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on May 28, 2010. (AR 23-31.) The Appeals Council denied review on September 8, 2011. (AR 1-3.)

DISPUTED ISSUE

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, there is one disputed issue: whether the ALJ properly categorized and considered Plaintiff's educational status.

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 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION

The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or . . . can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 423(d) (1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The ...


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