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Keith Fergins v. Michael J. Astrue

December 20, 2012

KEITH FERGINS, 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 Keith Fergins filed this action on March 9, 2012. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on March 28 and April 12, 2012. (Dkt. Nos. 7, 13.) On September 25, 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 and remands the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 31, 2007, Fergins filed an application for supplemental security income and alleged a disability onset date of July 26, 2000. Administrative Record ("AR") 9, 226-32. The application was denied. AR 9, 107. Fergins requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 127. On November 14, 2008, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Fergins and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. AR 69-106. On December 18, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 108-18. Fergins filed a request for review. On May 28, 2009, the matter was remanded by the Appeals Council, which directed the ALJ to obtain updated medical treatment records, further evaluate Fergins' subjective complaints, give further consideration to Fergins' residual functional capacity ("RFC") and, if warranted, obtain supplemental evidence from a VE. AR 161.

On January 4, 2010, the ALJ conducted a second hearing and heard brief testimony from Fergins. AR 60-68. The ALJ continued the hearing and ordered an orthopedic consultative examination for Fergins. AR 9, 66-67.

On June 22, 2010, the ALJ conducted a third hearing at which Fergins, a VE and a medical expert ("ME") testified. AR 23-58. On August 17, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 6-17. On January 30, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Fergins' request for review. AR 1-5. 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 ...


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