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McDonald v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. California

February 27, 2015

ZENA McDONALD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JACQUELINE CHOOLJIAN, Magistrate Judge.

I. SUMMARY

On June 6, 2014, plaintiff Zena McDonald ("plaintiff") filed a Complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of plaintiff's application for benefits. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, respectively ("Plaintiff's Motion") and ("Defendant's Motion"). The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; L.R. 7-15; June 11, 2014 Case Management Order ¶ 5.

Based on the record as a whole and the applicable law, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. The findings of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") are supported by substantial evidence and are free from material error.[1]

II. BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION

On August 16 and 31, 2010, plaintiff filed applications for, respectively, Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. (Administrative Record ("AR") 23, 145, 153). Plaintiff asserted that she became disabled on January 1, 1985, due to bipolar disorder, social issues, memory loss, split personality, bullet in her stomach, inability to "walk long, " and pain that kept her awake. (AR 162). The ALJ examined the medical record and heard testimony from plaintiff (who was represented by counsel) and a vocational expert on August 21, 2012. (AR 39-59).

On August 29, 2012, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled through the date of the decision. (AR 23-33). Specifically, the ALJ found: (1) plaintiff suffered from the following severe combination of impairments: drug and alcohol abuse; mood disorder, not otherwise specified; possible bipolar disorder; psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified; possible schizoaffective disorder induced by polysubstance abuse; and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar, cervical, and thoracic spines with a bullet located at the left L2 area (AR 25); (2) plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment (AR 26); (3) plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform medium work (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c), 416.967(c)) with additional limitations[2] (AR 26); (4) plaintiff had no past relevant work (AR 32); (5) there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform, specifically hand packager, machine feeder, and night cleaner (AR 32-33); and (6) plaintiff's allegations regarding her limitations were not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with the ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment (AR 27).

The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's application for review. (AR 1).

III. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

To qualify for disability benefits, a claimant must show that the claimant is unable "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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The impairment must render the claimant incapable of performing the work the claimant previously performed and incapable of performing any other substantial gainful employment that exists in the national economy. Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).

A court may set aside a denial of benefits only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if it is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Robbins v. Social Security Administration, 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Flaten v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 44 F.3d 1453, 1457 (9th Cir. 1995)). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citations and quotations omitted). It is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Robbins, 466 F.3d at 882 (citing Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 183 (9th Cir. 1990)).

To determine whether substantial evidence supports a finding, a court must "consider the record as a whole, weighing both evidence that supports and evidence that detracts from the [Commissioner's] conclusion.'" Aukland v. Massanari, 257 F.3d 1033, 1035 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Penny v. Sullivan, 2 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 1993)). If the evidence can reasonably support either affirming or reversing the ALJ's ...


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