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George E. Lamberson v. Michael J. Astrue

September 28, 2012

GEORGE E. LAMBERSON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen J. Hillman United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

This Matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying the plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the undersigned. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the record before the Commissioner. The plaintiff and defendant have filed their pleadings (Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Complaint ["Plaintiff's Brief"]; Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Plaintiff's Complaint ["Defendant's Brief"]), and the defendant has filed the Certified Administrative Record [AR]. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that the decision of the Commissioner should be affirmed.

I. PROCEEDINGS

On June 22, 2006, George Lamberson (Plaintiff) filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. (AR 62-64, 247). In Plaintiff's application, he alleged that he had been disabled since March 1, 2004. (AR 62, 247). Upon reviewing Plaintiff's application, the Social Security Administration (SSA) determined that Plaintiff did not qualify for DIB. (AR 48, 247). After reconsideration, the SSA again denied Plaintiff's application, on April 17, 2007. (AR 41, 247). Plaintiff then filed a request on June 11, 2007 for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (AR 40, 247). The hearing was held on November 28, 2007. (AR 247, 255). At the hearing, Plaintiff and a vocational expert appeared before the ALJ. (AR 247).

On December 20, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision affirming the SSA's denial of DIB. (AR 244). With regard to Plaintiff's subjective statements about his symptoms, the ALJ discussed numerous daily activities that Plaintiff testified he was capable of completing, which were inconsistent with a finding of total disability. (AR 252). With regard to Plaintiff's subjective statements about his pain, the ALJ highlighted his failure to seek out physical therapy or chiropractic treatment, and concluded that Plaintiff's testimony was not credible. Id.

The Appeals Council remanded the matter to the ALJ on November 28, 2008 with instructions to reevaluate medical evidence from James K. Styner, M.D. (AR 275). Additionally, the Appeals Council ordered the ALJ to consider Plaintiff's newly submitted testimony from orthopedist Jeffrey A. Kantor, M.D. (AR 275-76). Notably, the Appeals Council did not order that the ALJ revisit his credibility findings regarding the Plaintiff's subjective statements about his symptoms and level of pain. (AR 275-76).

After Dr. Styner reexamined Plaintiff for a second time in March 2009, the ALJ held a hearing on April 1, 2009. (AR 678). On July 20, 2009, the ALJ again denied Plaintiff DIB benefits. (AR 16).

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for a review of the July 20, 2009 decision, rendering the ALJ's July 20, 2009 opinion the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 8.)

Plaintiff has filed this civil action for review of the ALJ's decision on two grounds: 1) The ALJ improperly rejected the medical evidence from Dr. James Styner; 2) The ALJ failed to provide legally sufficient reasons to reject Plaintiff's testimony about his subjective pain and symptoms. (Plaintiff's Brief at 4, 8).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine if: (1) the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (2) the Commissioner used proper legal standards. Delorme v. Sullivan, 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla," Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971), but "less than a preponderance." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). This court cannot disturb the Commissioner's findings if those findings are supported by substantial evidence, even though other evidence may exist which supports plaintiff's claim. See Torske v. Richardson, 484 F.2d 59, 60 (9th Cir. 1973), cert. denied, Torske v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 933, 94 S. Ct. 2646 (1974); Harvey v. Richardson, 451 F.2d 589, 590 (9th Cir. 1971). When represented by counsel, claimants must raise all issues and evidence at their administrative hearings to preserve them on appeal. Meanel v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 1111 (9th Cir. 1999).

It is the duty of this court to review the record as a whole and to consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 529-30 (9th Cir. 1986). The court is required to uphold the decision of the Commissioner where evidence is susceptible of more than one rational interpretation. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1453 (9th Cir. 1984). The court has the authority to affirm, modify, or reverse the Commissioner's decision "with or without remanding the cause for rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

III. DISCUSSION

A person is "disabled" for purposes of receiving benefits if the person is "unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not more than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(d)(1)(A) (1988). The plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima facie case of disability. ...


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