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Nicholas Telles v. Michael J. Astrue

July 19, 2012

NICHOLAS TELLES,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on March 8, 2011, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI"). On April 5, 2011, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on November 7, 2011, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; and the Commissioner requests that his decision be affirmed or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On October 25, 2007, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 8.) Plaintiff, who was born on October 15, 1982 (A.R. 15),*fn1 claims to have been disabled since November 1, 2005 (A.R. 8), due to schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, depression, paranoia, anxiety, and panic attacks. (A.R. 22-24, 52, 58).

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 8, 52-56, 58-63), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 8, 64). On October 14, 2009, plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Joseph D. Schloss (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 8, 17-47.) Medical expert David Glassmire and vocational expert David A. Rinehart also testified. (Id.) On December 10, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 8-16), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). That decision is now at issue in this action.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2008. (A.R. 10.) The ALJ also found that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2005, the alleged onset date of his disability. (Id.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairment of "schizophrenia/depression." (Id.) In so finding, the ALJ also determined that plaintiff's substance abuse disorder is not severe and has been in remission since 2007. (Id.) The ALJ found that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926). (A.R. 11.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). (A.R. 13.) The ALJ noted that "[t]his [work] should be performed in a low stress environment and involve simple repetitive tasks requiring little contact with supervisors, co-workers or a team, [and] in an environment where [plaintiff] is not responsible for the safety of others." (Id.)

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work.*fn2 (A.R. 14.) However, based on his RFC assessment and after having considered plaintiff's age, education,*fn3 work experience, and the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that jobs exist in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, including "floor polisher," "stores laborer," and "kitchen helper." (A.R. 15.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from November 1, 2005, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 16.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). "While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those 'reasonably drawn from the record' will suffice." Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006)(quoting Stout v. Comm'r, 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Burch, 400 F.3d at 679.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff claims that the ALJ did not: (1) consider properly the opinion of his treating ...


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