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Joseph A. Carmona v. Michael J. Astrue

August 8, 2012

JOSEPH A. CARMONA, 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 February 17, 2012, Joseph A. Carmona ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a Complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on May 29, 2012. On July 30, 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 is a 55 year old male who applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits on February 6, 2009, alleging disability beginning February 21, 2008. (AR 23.) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. (AR 25.)

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on July 15, 2009 (AR 23), and on reconsideration on December 1, 2009. (AR 23.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Michael D. Radensky on October 26, 2010, in San Bernardino, California. (AR 45-75.) Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by Michael T. Rickard, a non-attorney representative. (AR 23.) Medical expert Samuel Landau and Sandra M. Fioretti, a vocational expert ("VE"), also appeared at the hearing. (AR 23.) The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 23, 2010. (AR 23-30.) The Appeals Council denied review on December 20, 2011. (AR 1-7.)

DISPUTED ISSUE

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, Plaintiff raises the following disputed issues as grounds for reversal and remand:

1. Whether the granting of little or no weight to the diagnostic and functional capacity opinions of treating psychiatrist Dr. Scurry was based on proper legal standards.

2. Whether the ALJ's residual mental functional capacity finding is supported by substantial evidence of record.

3. Whether the finding that Plaintiff's subjective complaints are not credible is supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error.

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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