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Lara v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 4, 2013

HORTENCIA LARA, 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 May 7, 2012, seeking review of the denial of plaintiff's application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income benefits ("SSI"). On June 15, 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 January 30, 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 September 9, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for SSI, and on October 10, 2008, she filed an application for a period of disability and DIB. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 28.) Plaintiff, who was born on January 8, 1967 (A.R. 35), [2] claims to have been disabled since August 2, 2008 (A.R. 28) due to: neuropathy; arthritis; weakness; numbness in her legs and arms; high blood pressure; depression; and an "inability to walk" (A.R. 63, 73).

After the Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially and upon reconsideration (A.R. 28, 63-68, 73-77), plaintiff requested a hearing (A.R. 78). On June 22, 2010, plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Mason D. Harrell, Jr. (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 28, 41-58.) Vocational expert Corinne J. Porter also testified. ( Id. ) On August 13, 2010, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 28-37), 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 met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2010, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 2, 2008, the alleged onset date of her disability. (A.R. 30.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairment of "sensory neuropathy, " but she 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, 416.926). ( Id. )

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). (A.R. 30-31.) Specifically, the ALJ found that:

[Plaintiff] can lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally and 5-6 pounds frequently. She can stand and walk for 30 minutes at a time with the use of a cane for a total of 2 hours out of an 8-hour workday. She can sit for 30 minutes after which she has to stand and stretch for one minute for a total of 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday. She cannot balance or perform fast movements of the body when twisting or turning. She cannot constantly use her hands, but she can reach with her hands. She can occasionally perform activities requiring agility, such a[s] walking on uneven terrain, climbing ladders, and working at heights. She would miss work up to twice a month. She is limited to simple, repetitive tasks due to pain medications.

(A.R. 31.)

The ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a machine presser. (A.R. 35.) However, based upon his RFC assessment for plaintiff, and after having considered plaintiff's age, education, [3] and work experience, as well as the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [plaintiff] can perform, " including that of "small items assembler" and "production inspector of items." (A.R. 35-36.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from August 2, 2008, through August 13, 2010, the date of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 36-37.)

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 ...


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