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Edward Collard v. Carolyn W. Colvin

May 1, 2013

EDWARD COLLARD,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, *FN1 ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on July 17, 2012, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI"). On August 20, 2012, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. The parties filed a Joint Stipulation on April 3, 2013, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's

Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of the Social decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; and the Commissioner requests that his decision be affirmed or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, DIB, and SSI on July 24, 2009. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 19.) Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since July 30, 2008 (A.R. 23), due to low energy, back pain, liver problems, lightheadedness, colon surgery, depression, and HIV (A.R. 83). Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a graphics designer, forms analyst, and administrative assistant. (A.R. 29.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claims initially (A.R. 83-89), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 92-93). On September 30, 2010, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Alexander Weir, III (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 41-76.) Vocational expert Susan Green also testified. (Id.) On December 2, 2010, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 19-30), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-4). That decision is now at issue in this action.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2011, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 30, 2008, the alleged onset date of his disability. (A.R. 23.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairments of "HIV positive infection and chronic Hepatitis C." (Id.) The ALJ also determined that plaintiff has a history of mental depression and drug dependence, but "these impairments are not severe." (Id.) The ALJ concluded that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). (A.R. 25.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "a full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. [§§] 404.1567(a), (b) and 416.967(a), (b)." (A.R. 27.) Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff can: "lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently"; "stand and walk for 6 hours and sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour day, with normal breaks"; and "push and pull commensurate with his lifting ability without significant limitation." (Id.)

The ALJ found that plaintiff could perform his part relevant work as a graphics designer, forms analyst, and administrative assistant, because that work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by his RFC. (A.R. 29.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 30, 2008, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether it is free from legal error and supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Orn v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is "'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id. (citation omitted). The "evidence must be more than a mere scintilla but not necessarily a preponderance." Connett v. Barnhart, 340 F.3d 871, 873 (9th Cir. 2003). "While inferences from the record can constitute substantial evidence, only those 'reasonably drawn from the record' will suffice." Widmark v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2006)(citation omitted).

Although this Court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the Commissioner, the Court nonetheless must review the record as a whole, "weighing both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion." Desrosiers v. Sec'y of Health and Hum. Servs., 846 F.2d 573, 576 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985). "The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and for resolving ambiguities." Andrews v. Shalala, 53 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 1995).

The Court will uphold the Commissioner's decision when the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation. Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005). However, the Court may review only the reasons stated by the ALJ in his decision "and may not affirm the ALJ on a ground upon which he did not rely." Orn, 495 F.3d at 630; see also Connett, 340 F.3d at 874. The Court will not reverse the Commissioner's decision if it is based on harmless error, which exists only when it is "clear from the record that an ALJ's error was 'inconsequential to the ultimate non-disability determination.'" ...


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