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Fortune v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

October 16, 2014

ANDREA FORTUNE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

JOHN E. MCDERMOTT, Magistrate Judge.

PROCEEDINGS

On February 11, 2014, Andrea Fortune ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant") filed a complaint seeking review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's applications for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The Commissioner filed an Answer on April 18, 2014. On July 8, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation ("JS"). The matter is now ready for decision.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), both parties consented to proceed before this Magistrate Judge. After reviewing the pleadings, transcripts, and administrative record ("AR"), the Court concludes that the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed and this case dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 44-year-old male who applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits on April 14, 2011. (AR 8.) In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning July 4, 2001. (AR 8.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity during 2011.[1] However, there has been a continuous 12-month period during which Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity. (AR 10.)

Plaintiff's claims were denied initially on October 3, 2011 and on reconsideration on May 9, 2012. (AR 8.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Paul Coulter on February 1, 2013, in San Bernardino, California. (AR 8.) Claimant appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel. (AR 8.) Vocational expert ("VE") Sandra M. Fioretti also appeared and testified at the hearing. (AR 8.)

The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 14, 2013. (AR 8-17.) The Appeals Council denied review on December 18, 2013. (AR 1-3.)

DISPUTED ISSUES

As reflected in the Joint Stipulation, Plaintiff raises the following disputed issues as grounds for reversal and remand:

1. Whether the ALJ properly considered the criteria of Listing 12.05.
2. Whether the ALJ properly considered the consultative examiner's opinion.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and free of legal error. Smolen v. Chater , 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); see also DeLorme v. Sullivan , 924 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1991) (ALJ's disability determination must be supported by substantial evidence and based on the proper legal standards).

Substantial evidence means "more than a mere scintilla, ' but less than a preponderance." Saelee v. Chater , 94 F.3d 520, 521-22 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson , 402 U.S. at 401 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

This Court must review the record as a whole and consider adverse as well as supporting evidence. Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006). Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ALJ's decision must be upheld. Morgan v. Comm'r of the Soc. Sec. Admin. , 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999). "However, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence.'" Robbins , 466 F.3d at 882 (quoting Hammock v. Bowen , 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989)); see also Orn v. Astrue , 495 F.3d 625, 630 (9th Cir. 2007).

THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION

The Social Security Act defines disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or... can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Commissioner has established a ...


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