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Deden v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 26, 2013

BARBARA J. DEDEN, 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 August 21, 2012, seeking review of the denial by the Social Security Commissioner ("Commissioner") of plaintiff's application for a period of disability ("POD"), disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("SSI"). On November 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 May 3, 2013, in which: plaintiff seeks an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding 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 10, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for SSI. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 11, 136-38.) On July 29, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for a POD and DIB. (A.R. 11, 139-42.) In both applications, plaintiff alleged an inability to work since July 29, 2005, due to "[p]revious history of seizures caused by a brain tumor, " "[h]ematoma [and] confusion when I had surgery, " "[c]hronic depression, " "[m]issing disc in lower back, " and "[l]eaking pad in upper back." (A.R. 144.) At the reconsideration level, plaintiff additionally alleged "[d]epression is worsening, high blood pressure is not going down despite weight loss, edema is not going down and is present upon waking in a.m., " as well as an "enlarged heart" and "sleep apnea." (A.R. 158, 167.)

The Commissioner denied plaintiff's claim initially (A.R. 69-74) and upon reconsideration (A.R. 76-81). On February 9, 2011, plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Eric Benham (the "ALJ"). (A.R. 11, 24-59.) Vocational expert Aida Worthington also testified. ( Id. ) On March 18, 2011, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim (A.R. 11-18), and the Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (A.R. 1-7). That decision is now at issue in this action.

SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

The ALJ found that plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2009, and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of July 29, 2005. (A.R. 13.) The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the severe impairments of "obesity, congestive heart failure, back and knee pain, " 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). (A.R. 13-14.)

After reviewing the record, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. [§§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except occasional postural activities [and] occasional handling and fingering with right non-dominant hand." (A.R. 14.)

The ALJ found that plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a "claims clerk, credit clerk, general clerk, and telephone solicitor" as generally performed. (A.R. 18.) Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since July 29, 2005, the alleged onset date. ( 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. 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 alleges the following issues: (1) whether the ALJ properly found her depression to be nonsevere; (2) whether the ALJ properly considered plaintiff's subjective complaints; (3) whether the ALJ properly considered the combination of her impairments in his RFC determination; and (4) whether the ALJ properly considered if she can perform her ...


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