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Kimberly Edelbrock v. Commissioner of Social

April 13, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer L. Thurston United States Magistrate Judge


Kimberly Edelbrock ("Plaintiff") asserts she is entitled to supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. According to Plaintiff, the administrative law judge erred in evaluating the medical evidence, and Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the decision denying benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the administrative decision is AFFIRMED.


Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income on September 29, 2008, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2001. (Doc. 11-6 at 2-8). The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claim on February 26, 2009, and upon reconsideration on November 10, 2009. (Doc. 11-2 at 1). After requesting a hearing, Plaintiff testified before an ALJ on January 26, 2011. (Doc. 11-3 at 29). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act, and issued an order denying benefits on February 7, 2011. (Doc. 11-3 at 9-23). Plaintiff requested a review by the Appeals Council of Social Security, which declined to review the ALJ's decision on February 3, 2012. Id. at 2-4. Therefore, the ALJ's determination became the decision of the 2

Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). 3


District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by 5 the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of fact, 6 such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner's 7 decision is supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The 8 ALJ's determination that the claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the proper legal 9 standards were applied and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Sanchez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Serv., 812 F.2d 509, 510 (9th Cir. 1987).

Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197 (1938)). The record as a whole must be considered, because "[t]he court must consider both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusion." Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985).


To qualify for benefits under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff must establish she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual shall be considered to have a disability only if: 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The burden of proof is on a claimant to establish disability. Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). When a claimant establishes a prima facie case of disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish he or she is able to engage in substantial gainful employment. Maounis v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984).


To achieve uniform decisions, the Commissioner established a sequential five-step process for 3 evaluating a claimant's alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920 (a)-(f). The process requires the ALJ 4 to determine whether Plaintiff (1) engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of alleged 5 disability, (2) had medically determinable severe impairments (3) that met or equaled one of the listed 6 impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and whether Plaintiff (4) had the 7 residual functional capacity to perform to past relevant work or (5) the ability to perform other work 8 existing in significant numbers at the state and national level. Id. The ALJ must consider objective 9 medical evidence and opinion (hearing) testimony. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.927, 416.929.

A. Relevant Medical Opinions*fn1

Dr. Aimee Riffell conducted a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation on December 20, 2008. (Doc. 11-8 at 48- 53). Plaintiff told Dr. Riffell her posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms due to "trauma experienced while in a volatile domestic partnership" were "of moderate severity," and being treated with medicine. Id. Also, Plaintiff reported she was "a victim of physical and sexual abuse as early as age 3, and . . .experienc[ed] nightmares and heightened anxiety and startle responses since that time." Id. Dr. Riffell noted:

Ms. Edelbrock reports that her primary mental health symptoms include depressed mood, anxiety, poor concentration, panic attacks, headaches, chronic pain, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, crying and racing thoughts, poor memory, inability to be in crowds, loss of stamina ...

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