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Magana v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 3, 2013

OLIVIA FRANCES MAGANA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARGARET A. NAGLE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff filed a Complaint on June 22, 2012, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). On July 24, 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 15, 2013, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding this case for the payment of benefits or, alternatively, for further administrative proceedings; and the Commissioner requests that her decision be affirmed or, alternatively, remanded for further administrative proceedings.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

On June 4, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 14.) Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since June 9, 2008, due to fibromyalgia, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart and vision problems, shortness of breath, and "forgetting things." (A.R. 36, 57, 64, 166.) Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a secretary. (A.R. 20.)

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 14, 57-61, 64-68), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 69). On April 13, 2011, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Sally C. Reason (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 14, 31-50.) Vocational expert Lynn Tracy also testified. ( Id. ) On April 21, 2011, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 14-20), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-3). 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 December 31, 2013, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 9, 2008, the alleged onset date of her disability. (A.R. 16.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairments of: "ischemic heart disease status post stenting in May 2007; diabetes mellitus; mild lumbar degenerative disc disease; and obesity."[2] ( Id. ) After considering plaintiff's impairments, 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). (A.R. 17.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). (A.R. 17.) Further, the ALJ found that plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a secretary, because that work "does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by [plaintiff]'s [RFC]." (A.R. 20.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that "[plaintiff] has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 9, 2008, through the date of [her] 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 nondisability determination.'" Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2006)(quoting Stout v. Comm'r , 454 F.3d 1050, 1055 (9th Cir. 2006)); see also Burch , 400 F.3d at 679.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff claims the ALJ erred by not considering plaintiff's subjective symptom testimony properly. (Joint Stipulation ...


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