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Rosalina Ceballos v. Michael J. Astrue

October 17, 2012

ROSALINA CEBALLOS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alicia G. Rosenberg United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Rosalina Ceballos filed this action on October 20, 2011. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on November 21 and December 19, 2011. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.) On July 30, 2012, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") that addressed the disputed issues. The court has taken the matter under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 17, 2007, Ceballos filed an application for disability insurance benefits alleging an onset date of May 15, 2007.*fn1 AR 17. The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. AR 77-78. Ceballos requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 116. On October 22, 2009, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Ceballos and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 48-76. On November 4, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 85-91. On August 19, 2010, the Appeals Council granted Ceballos' request for review and remanded the case to the ALJ. AR 96-99. The Appeals Council directed the ALJ to adequately consider the opinion of Dr. Knight, a treating physician, explain the weight given to such opinion evidence, and request additional evidence from the treating source, if appropriate; consider whether Ceballos' obesity is a severe impairment and whether it has an impact on her ability to work; adequately evaluate Ceballos' credibility; and if warranted, obtain supplemental evidence from a VE. AR 98.

On April 6, 2011, the same ALJ conducted a remand hearing at which Ceballos testified and additional medical records from Dr. Grogan, a consultative examining physician, were received into evidence and made a part of the record. AR 30-47, 526-37. On April 27, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 11-24. On August 26, 2011, after receiving additional medical evidence and making it part of the record, the Appeals Council denied the request for review.*fn2 AR 1-6. This action followed.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this court reviews 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) (per curiam); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

"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. In 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. When the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the court must defer to the Commissioner's decision. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III.

DISCUSSION

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled, and thereby eligible for such benefits, "only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22, 124 S. Ct. 376, 157 L. Ed. 2d 333 (2003).

B. The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ found Ceballos has the severe impairments of history of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, status post surgeries and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine. AR 18. Her impairments do not meet or equal a listing. Id.

She has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a wide range of medium work. AR 19. She can lift and carry up to 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, sit, stand, and/or walk for 6 out of 8 hours, and "frequently (not constantly/repetitively) perform fine and gross manipulation with both hands." Id. Her grasping, gripping, pushing, and pulling capabilities "are limited in the same manner as lifting and carrying." Id. She is capable of performing her past relevant work as a gluer. AR 24. The ALJ found that the same conclusion ...


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