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Joyce E. Haase v. Michael J. Astrue

August 27, 2012

JOYCE E. HAASE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jean Rosenbluth U.S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER

I. PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff seeks review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned U.S. Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). This matter is before the Court on the parties' Joint Stipulation, filed August 9, 2012. The Court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed and this action is dismissed.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on August 10, 1959. (Administrative Record ("AR") 84.) She has a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (AR 149, 159.) She claims to have been disabled since December 2, 2000, because of neurofibromatosis type 2 -- a rare disease that causes tumors to grow on the central nervous system -- which has resulted in complete hearing loss in her left ear and progressive hearing loss in the right. (AR 150.)

On January 31, 2008, Plaintiff filed her application for DIB. (AR 84-85.) After it was denied, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on May 26, 2010. (AR 33.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at the hearing; medical expert Dr. Ross Eliott Lipton and vocational expert ("VE") Jose L. Chaparro also testified. (AR 31-83.)

On September 22, 2010, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim. She first found that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2005, and did not engage in substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date of December 2, 2000, to that date. (AR 13.) She then determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of "neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) with hearing loss." (Id.) She found, however, that as of June 30, 2005, Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn1 to perform "light exertional level work" with the additional limitations that Plaintiff could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, should never balance or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, should not walk on uneven terrain, lacked any other postural limitations if these activities were performed in well lit areas and in the presence of others, should avoid even moderate exposure to temperature extremes, should avoid immersion in water, should avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and fumes, should avoid areas with noise above the noise level of a typical normal quiet office, should not drive a motor vehicle, and should avoid all exposure to moving machinery and unprotected heights. (AR 16.) She agreed with the VE that Plaintiff was capable of performing the jobs of "office helper" and "paper-pattern folder" and that those jobs existed in significant numbers in the national and regional economy; thus, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (AR 20-21.)

On November 1, 2010, Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. (AR 6-7.) On August 26, 2011, the Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR 1-3.) This action followed.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's or ALJ's findings and decision should be upheld if they are free of legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based on the record as a whole. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence means such evidence as a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035. To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, the reviewing court "must review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion." Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1996). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the Commissioner. Id. at 720-21.

IV. THE EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

People are "disabled" for purposes of receiving Social Security benefits if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of 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 12 months.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

A. The Five-Step Evaluation Process The Commissioner (or ALJ) follows a five-step sequential evaluation process in ...


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