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Bernadette L. Parks v. Michael A. Astrue

February 13, 2013

BERNADETTE L. PARKS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL A. 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 Bernadette L. Parks filed a complaint on May 24, 2012. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties consented to proceed before the magistrate judge on June 21 and July 13, 2012. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.) The parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") on January 3, 2013, that addressed the disputed issues. The commissioner filed the certified administrative record ("AR"). The court has taken the Joint Stipulation under submission without oral argument.

Having reviewed the entire file, the court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On July 31, 2007, Parks filed an application for supplemental security income benefits alleging an onset date of December 1, 2005. AR 32. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 133-34. Parks requested a hearing. On June 1, 2009, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing at which Parks and a vocational expert testified. AR 105-31. On August 12, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 135-48. On October 4, 2010, the Appeals Council granted the request for review, vacated the decision remanded the case for further proceedings. AR 149-53. On remand, the ALJ was directed to (1) evaluate whether Parks' schizoaffective disorder, depression and bipolar disorder are medically determinable impairments and, if so, whether they are severe; (2) assess Parks' residual functional capacity and, in so doing, evaluate and develop the record concerning the treating source opinions; (3) obtain evidence from a mental health medical expert including, if appropriate, whether drug and/or alcohol addiction is material to a finding of disability; (4) evaluate whether Parks' past relevant work was performed at the substantial gainful activity level and, if so, whether Parks can perform it; (5) obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert if warranted; and (6) if appropriate, evaluate whether drug and/or alcohol addiction is material to disability. AR 151-53.

On January 31, 2011, an ALJ conducted a hearing at which Parks, a medical expert and vocational expert testified. AR 51-104. On February 15, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. AR 29-45. On April 6, 2012, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. AR 1-5. This lawsuit followed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or it is based upon the application of improper legal standards. Moncada v. Chater, 60 F.3d 521, 523 (9th Cir. 1995); Drouin v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1992).

In this context, "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." Vasquez v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 586, 591 (9th Cir. 2009); Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523; see also Ryan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 528 F.3d 1194, 1198 (9th Cir. 2008). When 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. Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Court must defer to the decision of the Commissioner. Moncada, 60 F.3d at 523.

III. EVALUATION OF DISABILITY

A. Disability

A person qualifies as disabled and is eligible for 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 that Parks has the following medically determinable severe impairments: psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified ("NOS"), mood disorder, NOS, and drug and alcohol abuse. AR 36. Parks' ...


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