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Anjela Khalafian v. Michael J. Astrue

July 10, 2012

ANJELA KHALAFIAN, 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 Anjela Khalafian filed a complaint on June 3, 2011. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on July 6, 2011 and March 23, 2012. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 17.) On March 19, 2012, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issue. The court took the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Khalafian filed applications for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits on October 17, 2005 and October 31, 2005, respectively. Administrative Record ("AR") 330. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 29-30. Khalafian requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). AR 26. On October 31, 2007, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Khalafian and a vocational expert testified. AR 299-313. On February 14, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 12-20. On August 29, 2008, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 4-6. On October 24, 2008, Khalafian filed an action in this court. On July 8, 2009, the court approved a joint stipulation for voluntary remand to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with the terms of the stipulation. AR 336-39. On September 17, 2009, the Appeals Council vacated the final decision of the Commissioner and remanded to an ALJ for further proceedings consistent with the court's order. AR 342. Khalafian filed subsequent concurrent applications for supplemental security income benefits on July 29, 2009, and for disability benefits on November 9, 2009. AR 318.

On January 5, 2011, a different ALJ conducted a hearing at which Khalafian and a vocational expert testified. AR 660-84. On March 14, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 314-30. 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) (per curiam); 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 thereby eligible for such 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) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found that Khalafian met the insured status requirements through June 30, 2008. AR 320. Khalafian had the severe impairments of degenerative joint and degenerative disc disease at C5-7 and L3-5; hypertension; obesity; depressive disorder; and dependent personality disorder. Id. She had "the residual functional capacity to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, and sit, stand, and walk without significant limitation. Mentally, the claimant is limited to simple, repetitive tasks in a work environment without significant public contact. She has no other ...


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