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Yvett Lilly v. Michael J. Astrue

September 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marc L. Goldman United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Yvett Lilly seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed and the matter is dismissed with prejudice.

I. Background

Plaintiff was born on November 8, 1966. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 125.) She has an eleventh grade education and has relevant work experience as a truck driver. (AR at 150, 153.) Plaintiff filed her applications on November 5, 2008, alleging disability since September 7, 2006, due to right shoulder surgery, osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. (AR at 52, 125.)

Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on February 17, 2009, and upon reconsideration on December 3, 2009. (AR at 56-60, 63-67.) An administrative hearing was held on December 7, 2010, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William K. Mueller. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified, as did a Vocational Expert ("VE"). (AR at 27-50.)

On January 12, 2011, ALJ Mueller issued an unfavorable decision. (AR at 10-20.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (AR at 12.) The ALJ further found that the medical evidence established that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: right shoulder AC joint degenerative disc disease and possible carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id.) However, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet, or were not medically equal to, one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AR at 13.)

The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with the following limitations: the claimant is limited to lifting and/or carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; she can stand for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday and has no sitting restrictions; she is precluded from walking on uneven terrain; she cannot perform overhead work with the right arm; she is limited to occasional above shoulder work with the right arm; she can handle and finger on a frequent basis bilaterally; and the claimant must avoid exposure to extreme cold, extreme vibrations, and hazardous heights and machinery.

(AR at 13-14.)

The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments prevented her from performing her past relevant work. (AR at 18.) However, based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (AR at 19-20.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). (AR at 20.)

On February 7, 2012, the Appeals Council denied review (AR at 1-3). Plaintiff then timely commenced this action for judicial review. On September 17, 2012, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("Joint Stip.") of disputed facts and issues. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly concluding at step three of the sequential process that Plaintiff's impairments did not medically meet or equal a listed impairment and (2) failing to properly consider the treating physician's opinion. (Joint Stip. at 2.) Plaintiff seeks reversal of the Commissioner's denial of her applications and payment of benefits or, in the alternative, remand for a new administrative hearing. (Joint Stip. at 20.) The Commissioner requests that the ALJ's decision be affirmed. (Joint Stip. at 20-21.)

II. Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The Commissioner's or ALJ's decision must be upheld unless "the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole." Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1990); 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 v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). 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 support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's conclusion," the reviewing court "may not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ." Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882.

III. Discussion

A. The ALJ Properly Determined That Plaintiff's Impairments Do Not Meet or ...

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