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Juanita Gonzalez v. Carolyn W. Colvin

April 13, 2013


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


Juanita Gonzalez ("Plaintiff") asserts she is entitled to supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff asserts the administrative law judge ("ALJ") erred in assessing the credibility of her subjective complaints, and seeks judicial review of the decision. For the reasons set forth below, the administrative decision is AFFIRMED.


Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income on March 13, 2008, alleging disability since December 15, 2007. (Doc. 12-6 at 2). The Social Security Administration denied her claim initially and upon reconsideration. (Doc. 12-5 at 3-7). After requesting a hearing, Plaintiff testified before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on June 7, 2010. (Doc. 12-3 at 27). The ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act, and issued an order denying benefits on September 22, 2011. Id. at 10-22. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council of Social Security, which found no reason to review the ALJ's decision and the request for review on 2

March 19, 2012. Id. at 2-5. Therefore, the ALJ's determination became the decision of the 3

Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). 4

Plaintiff initiated this action on May 16, 2012, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.

(Doc. 1). On December 18, 2012, Plaintiff her opening brief in the action. (Doc. 13). Defendant filed 6 a brief in opposition on February 15, 2013. (Doc. 15). Plaintiff did not file a reply brief. 7


District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by 9 the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Social Security Act. When reviewing findings of fact, such as whether a claimant was disabled, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The ALJ's determination that the claimant is not disabled must be upheld by the Court if the proper legal 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. 2 Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, 1275 (9th Cir. 1990). Once a claimant establishes a prima facie case of 3 disability, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove the claimant is able to engage in other 4 substantial gainful employment. Maounis v. Heckler, 738 F.2d 1032, 1034 (9th Cir. 1984). 5


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

A. Relevant Medical Evidence

On October 3, 2003, Plaintiff attempted suicide via overdose. (Doc. 12-8 at 32, 95). Plaintiff was hospitalized for five days at Kern Medical Center after her husband found her unresponsive. Id. at 32. Plaintiff reported she had to be put in restraints during her hospitalization, and injured her shoulder while restrained. (Doc. 12-9 at 2).

Plaintiff had an x-ray of her right shoulder taken on March 19, 2004. (Doc. 12-8 at 7). Dr. Jeffrey Child found there was "[p]robable calcific tendinitis and/or bursitis." Id. In addition, Dr. Child opined Plaintiff had "[m]ild narrowing of the coracoacromial arch due to congenital lateral downsloping of the acromion." Id. According to Dr. Child, if impingement syndrome was clinically indicated, an MRI would be of further value. Id.

On September 19, 2006, Plaintiff was treated at the Kern Medical Center. (Doc. 12-8 at 95). She reported "experiencing depression, stress due to financial problems, fatigue, mood springs, and . . . feelings of confusion." Id. Plaintiff reported she felt lost and thought about dying. Id. In addition, Plaintiff stated she got dizzy, had headaches, and was "awake ...

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