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Jeter v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 11, 2013

LAVONDA JETER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

CARLA M. WOEHRLE, Magistrate Judge.

PROCEEDINGS

On November 28, 2012, Lavonda Jeter ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of her applications for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. Thereafter, the parties filed a Consent to Proceed Before United States Magistrate Judge Carla Woehrle. On July 9, 2013, Defendant filed an Answer to Complaint. On September 4, 2013, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation.

For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that judgment should be granted in favor of Defendant, affirming the Commissioner's decision, and dismissing this action with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

On June 29, 2010, Plaintiff filed applications for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. (Administrative Record ["AR"] at 138-42.) Plaintiff alleged that, beginning on July 22, 2009, she was unable to work due to hearing loss, diabetic neuropathy, migraine headaches, high blood pressure, gastritis, bladder infection, swollen feet, and depression. (AR at 66, 138.) Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on November 10, 2010. (AR at 66-75.)

On or about December 6, 2010, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (AR at 76.) The ALJ conducted a hearing on July 19, 2011. (AR at 11-41.) Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with her counsel and testified. (AR at 14-38.) A vocational expert also testified. (AR at 38-40.)

On July 27, 2011, the ALJ issued his decision denying benefits. (AR at 44-57.) In his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the following "severe" combination of impairments: obesity, diabetes mellitus, dorsalis pedis of the right foot, hypertension, and adjustment disorder with depressed mood. (AR at 49.) The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to "perform light work, " with the following limitations: "[Plaintiff] can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She should avoid climbing ladders, ropes and scaffolds; heights and hazards; and extreme temperatures. In addition, she is limited to simple to moderately complex work." (AR at 51.)

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a stock clerk. (AR at 55.) Nevertheless, the ALJ found that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were significant numbers of jobs that she could perform. Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform the jobs of cashier, garment bagger, and floor worker. (AR at 56.) Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. (AR at 57.)

On August 5, 2011, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision. (AR at 131-34.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (AR at 1-6.)

PLAINTIFF'S CONTENTIONS

The parties' Joint Stipulation sets out the following disputed issues:

1. Whether the ALJ erred by finding that Plaintiff's mental impairment was non-severe;
2. Whether the ALJ's RFC finding was in accordance with agency rules and regulations;
3. Whether the ALJ properly considered the opinions of Derrick Butler, M.D. and Lawrence Miller, M.D.; and
4. Whether the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints and the lay witness statements of Plaintiff's daughter.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. DeLorme v. Sullivan , 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla" but less than a preponderance. Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971); Desrosiers v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs. , 846 F.2d 573, 575-76 (9th Cir. 1988). In other words, it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson , 402 U.S. at 401.

In determining whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings, the Court must review the record as a whole and consider "both the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's conclusion[s]." Reddick v. Chater , 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). "If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing, " the Court "may not substitute its judgment" for that of the ALJ, and the ...


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