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Hauff v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 30, 2014

GARY SCOTT HAUFF, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

FREDERICK F. MUMM, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action seeking to overturn the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. The parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Pursuant to the March 26, 2013 Case Management Order, on February 7, 2104, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS") detailing each party's arguments and authorities. The Court has reviewed the JS and the administrative record ("AR"), filed by defendant on October 3, 2013. For the reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On or about March 18, 2009, plaintiff applied for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits. (AR 191-204.) Plaintiff alleged disability beginning January 2, 1996. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 65-69, 72-77.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (AR 78.) ALJ Joseph D. Schloss held hearings on March 29, 2011 and October 31, 2011. (AR 36-59.) Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at the hearings. ( Id. ) On December 29, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff disabled from March 6, 1996 through January 2, 2001, but not disabled because of medical improvement as of January 3, 2001. (AR 15-35.) Plaintiff sought review of the decision before the Social Security Administration Appeals Council. (AR 14.) The Council denied the request for review on January 19, 2013. (AR 1-5.)

Plaintiff filed the complaint herein on March 22, 2013.

ISSUE

Plaintiff raises three issues:

1. Whether the ALJ's finding of medical improvement rests on substantial evidence;

2. Whether the ALJ provided clear and convincing reasons for rejecting plaintiff's testimony; and

3. Whether the ALJ provided a complete hypothetical to the vocational expert. (JS 5.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether the Commissioner'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). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Green v. Heckler, 803 F.2d 528, 929-30 (9th Cir. 1986). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld. Gallant v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 1450, 1452 (9th Cir. 1984).

DISCUSSION

1. Medical improvement.

A. The medical record.

Plaintiff claimed disability based on back pain resulting from a 1996 workplace incident; anxiety; and irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS"), which required frequent bathroom trips.[1] (AR 51, 256.) As to his back pain, an April 1996 MRI revealed L5-S1 disc herniation, which caused nerve root impingement. Plaintiff underwent an L5-S1 diskectomy in September 1996. In August 1997, he had a right-sided L5-S1 laminectomy with a diskectomy and foraminotomy. In November 1997, plaintiff claimed that his back pain had not improved. Subsequent imagining tests revealed recurrent L5-S1 herniation, nerve root impingement, and epidural fibrosis at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. In September 2000, plaintiff underwent anterior and posterior spinal fusion procedures at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels.[2] ( See AR 25, 1071-72.)

The record reflects that plaintiff's treatment in the following years was sporadic. ( See AR 663-718.) Plaintiff did not report significant problems with his lower back until February 2009. In a February 2, 2009 examination, plaintiff had a diminished range of motion in his lumbar spine, some sensory loss, and a positive straight-leg raising ("SLR") test without nerve irritability in the seated and supine positions on the right side. (AR 846-47.)

In October 2009, a lumbar spine MRI revealed degenerative retrolisthesis and a 2mm disc bulge at L2-L3. There was a 6mm disc bulge in the coronal plane at L3-L4 and there were post-operative changes at L4-L5 and S4-S1. ( See AR 1014.) Plaintiff had an antalgic gait, pain with lumbar motion, and a positive right-side SLR test at 60° supine and 90° sitting. (AR 1013.) His ...


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