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Eustace Glover v. Michael J. Astrue

July 27, 2012

EUSTACE GLOVER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Abrams United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed this action on August 24, 2011, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income payments. The parties filed Consents to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge onSeptember 9, 2011, and September 22, 2011. Pursuant to the Court's Order, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation on April 20, 2012, that addresses their positions concerning the disputed issues in the case. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on May 24, 1983. [Administrative Record ("AR") at 67.] He has a twelfth grade education, and past relevant work experience as a caregiver, a janitor, and a sales representative. [AR at 179, 183.]

Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income payments on May 22, 2008, alleging that he has been unable to work since December 28, 2004, due to chronic pain, an inability to "stand for long periods of time," an inability to "do any lifting," "difficulties with concentration," and "anxiety that makes [him] uncomfortable around people." [AR at 153-56, 177-85.] After his application was denied initially, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). [AR at 75-78, 81-83.] A hearing was held on November 3, 2009, at which time plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 46-65.] A psychological expert and a medical expert also testified. [AR at 57-60, 62-64.] The ALJ concluded the hearing after the psychological expert recommended a "standard psychological examination" be performed on plaintiff and the medical expert recommended x-rays be taken of plaintiff. [AR at 62-65.] A second hearing was held on June 15, 2010, at which time plaintiff again appeared with counsel and testified on his own behalf. [AR at 28-45.] The psychological and medical experts from the first hearing testified, and a vocational expert also testified. [AR at 32-42.] On June 30, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. [AR at 13-23.] On July 21, 2011, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. [AR at 1-4.] This action followed.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review 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); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

In this context, the term "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; see also Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. When 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; Hammock v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1258.

IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

Persons are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity owing to a physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257.

A. THE FIVE-STEP EVALUATION PROCESS

The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520, 416.920; Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 828 n.5 (9th Cir. 1995, as amended April 9, 1996). In the first step, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, the second step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments significantly limiting his ability to do basic work activities; if not, a finding of non-disability is made and the claim is denied. Id. If the claimant has a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments, the third step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment in the Listing of Impairments ("Listing") set forth at 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; if so, disability is conclusively presumed and benefits are awarded. Id. If the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listing, the fourth step requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant has sufficient "residual functional capacity" to perform his past work; if so, the claimant is not disabled and the claim is denied. Id. The claimant has the burden of proving that he is unable to perform past relevant work. Drouin, 966 F.2d at 1257. If the claimant meets this burden, a ...


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