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Teresa Gail Perry v. Michael J. Astrue

December 13, 2012

TERESA GAIL PERRY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 In her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff principally contends that the Commissioner erred by finding that plaintiff was not disabled from August 27, 2008, through the date of the final administrative decision. (Dkt. No. 18.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 20.) For the reasons that follow, the court grants plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in part, denies the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and remands the case for further proceedings under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on June 29, 1958, has at least a high school education, and

previously worked as a fast food worker, cake decorator, census taker, mail handler, agricultural sorter, and in-home care provider.*fn2 (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 38-41, 132, 136.) On April 30, 2009, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she was unable to work as of August 27, 2008, primarily due to bulging discs in her back, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), and memory loss. (AT 11, 80-81, 132, 136, 153.) On September 1, 2009, the Commissioner determined that plaintiff was not disabled. (AT 80-81.) Upon plaintiff's request for reconsideration, the determination was affirmed on March 1, 2010. (AT 85-86.) Thereafter, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which took place on December 1, 2010. (AT 11, 34.)

In a decision dated December 22, 2010, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, from August 27, 2008, through the date of that decision. (AT 11-21.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on September 23, 2011. (AT 1-6.) Thereafter, plaintiff filed this action in federal district court on November 22, 2011, to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Dkt. No. 1.)

II. ISSUES PRESENTED

Plaintiff has raised the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ improperly rejected the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician regarding plaintiff's mental and physical impairments; and (2) whether the ALJ failed to properly credit the testimony of plaintiff and third parties as to the nature and extent of plaintiff's functional limitations.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether (1) it is

based on proper legal standards pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and (2) substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports it. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1097 (9th Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities." Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "The court will uphold the ALJ's conclusion when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation." Tommasetti v. Astrue, 533 F.3d 1035, 1038 (9th Cir. 2008).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ evaluated plaintiff's entitlement to DIB and SSI pursuant to the Commissioner's standard five-step analytical framework.*fn3

As an initial matter, the ALJ found that plaintiff remained insured for purposes of DIB through December 31, 2009. (AT 13.) At the first step, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 27, 2008, plaintiff's alleged disability onset date. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the following severe impairments: COPD, chronic low back pain, bipolar disorder, and possibly substance addition disorder. (Id.) However, at step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (AT 14.)

Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") as follows:

[T]he undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Light work requires lifting or carrying up to twenty pounds on an occasional basis, lifting or carrying up to ten pounds on a frequent basis, and standing or walking up to six hours (with normal breaks) in an eight-hour workday. The claimant has additional limitations enumerated as follows: no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; climbing of ramps or stairs on no more than an occasional basis; balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling on no more than an occasional basis; and moderate limitations in the ability to withstand stress and pressures of day-to-day work activity. The ...


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